Anti-vaxxers make me mad. Really mad. I've had my run in with a few online and I even work with one. What's an anti-vaxxer? A parent who refuses to vaccinate their child against a number of diseases, some which can be life threatening. Someone who, in their naivety (at best) or stupidity and negligence (at worst), puts not only their child at risk, but others, who for some reason are unable to be vaccinated.
It's not that I don't believe a person is allowed to make decisions for their lives. I do. And parents should be allowed to make decisions for how they raise their children. But there is a limit. A line that needs to be drawn where we just say to parents, you don't know what you're talking about and you must do it this way.
There are some areas where this already happens.
- No, you aren't allowed to shake your baby.
- No, you can't drive your car with your baby sitting on your lap.
- No, you can't leave a baby in a hot car while you go shopping.
- No, kids under 14 aren't allowed to look after themselves while you go out drinking, or to bingo, or to the country club or wherever.
Of course there are the sane parents who will have looked at the list above, shaking their heads, knowing that they would never do any of those things. However they're not the reason the rules exist. You see, the reason for the rules and laws about how we treat kids is because some parents will inevitably do these things and then some. They've been done, time and time again and just like any person who breaks a law (we call them criminals) the law enforcement people (police :P) need a mechanism to punish the criminals and deter others from following suit.
So how does this fit in with this rant about those parents who choose to forgo vaccinations for their children? It's simple really. I believe there needs to be a rule, a law, that protects kids from the stupidity of their parents. Just as there are laws requiring parents to buckle their kids into car seats, I believe there should be laws requiring vaccinations.
My question is why do some of the same parents who understand the rules above, and want to have no harm come to their children, also believe that they, in their lack of medical training, know better than all the trained professionals who say you need to vaccinate your child?
Dr Jennifer Raff wrote a great open letter to parents about all the arguments the anti-vaxxers use and the lies they try to sell to make their point, and discredits them with links to support what she says. I could rehash it here, but to be perfectly honest, she has the PhD, not me. You can read her words here.
I don't think these parents are being malicious in their intent. I think that many of them truly believe that vaccinations are bad and these parents think they are doing what's best for their kids. It's that when confronted with the facts, these parents choose to figuratively stick their fingers in their ears and ignore the science. Ignore those who have spent years studying and working in these fields. Doctors, scientists and other professionals who know what they're talking about.
This is why I think the choice for vaccinations needs to be taken out of the parent's hands. They obviously aren't making a properly informed decision. It's not really their fault. In this day and age it's so easy for people to be bombarded with information and there's not a whole lot that can stop the dissemination of lies that many of the proponents of the anti-vaccination movement use to try to convince parents to join them. They sow seeds of doubt and that doubt grows to the point where a once sane parent may look at their child and think, what if they're right? What if it does cause XYZ? Better safe than sorry. And then the parent is hooked and the child is put at risk.
Parents can be highly emotional. These parents, in their normal daily lives, are probably level headed and capable of making rational decisions based on fact rather than emotion. But you put their children into the mix and instill a fear that something might happen, and that rationality disappears. Instead of thinking, well there are hundreds of studies that prove that vaccinations are safe and don't cause autism, they read about that one fraudulent study by the doctor, Andrew Wakefield, who has now had his medical license revoked and the study results proved to be false and think, oh my, it might happen to my child, I better not risk it.
My dislike of anti-vaxxers comes from having a father who contracted polio as a child. He was one of the lucky ones and only has a leg that is weaker and almost half as skinny as his other one. The polio vaccine was not available when my father was a child but luckily there is no need for a child to suffer the deformities that can come with contracting polio. After a lot of effort, polio has been eliminated in most countries and is one of those diseases that we hope will be eradicated. There is a global push to do just that. Unfortunately there has only ever been one disease that has been eradicated in human history and that was small pox which was declared eradicated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1980.
I think there is some confusion in the terminology used when discussing diseases. Eradication is different from elimination. Eradication is the complete annihilation of a disease from the global population, though true eradication would be completely destroying all stocks of the disease. The global initiative to eradicate small pox started in 1958 and took just over 20 years, and while it is eradicated, there are small stocks kept by some countries for study etc. This is different from elimination where the spread of a disease is stopped in a country or other specified area but it still exists.
If more and more people move towards an anti-vaccine stance, then this can thwart eradication efforts. One such disease is measles. The measles vaccine was first used in 1963 and combined with the mumps and rubella vaccines, to create the MMR vaccine that became the focus of this crazy anti vaccine crusade, in 1971.
Many countries are striving to eliminate measles because of the high mortality rate of those who contract the illness. It hasn't been eliminated in NZ yet, but in 2000 the US declared that it had been eliminated from within their borders. How long it retains that status, in light of the recent outbreak in California which has been linked quite heavily to children who were voluntarily not vaccinated, remains to be seen.
According to the WHO, in 2013, there were 145 700 measles deaths globally. This equates to about 400 a day or 16 deaths every hour. Why should people be dying from an illness that we have a vaccine for? It makes zero sense. If these parents really love their kids, why would they put them at that risk?
Penn and Teller say it best in the video linked here. Anti-vaccination is bullshit!