Vaccinate Your Damn Kids.

(cross-posted from US of J)

When you have the time, you should listen to last week’s This American Life; it deals with an outbreak of measles among a group of children in San Diego, brought on by parents who refused to vaccinate their children.  Here’s a quick summary:

Measles cases are higher in the U.S. than they’ve been in a decade, mostly because more and more nervous parents are refusing to vaccinate their kids. Contributing Editor Susan Burton tells the story of what happened recently in San Diego, when an unvaccinated 7-year-old boy returned home from a trip to Switzerland, bringing with him the measles. By the end of the ordeal, 11 other children caught the disease, and more than 60 kids had to be quarantined.

I have nothing but complete disdain for parents who refuse to vaccinate their children, and selfishly count on “herd immunity” to protect their precious snowflake from sickness and ill health.  For one reason or another, they don’t seem to understand that they are putting their children and others children at risk for really terrible diseases.  Measles for instance, can cause temperatures as high as 107 degrees, which can put a child at risk for serious brain damage.

Contrary to what some parents apparently think, this isn’t a “private” concern, it is very much an issue of public health; once a sufficient number of children have not vaccinated, the chances of epidemic disease spread (and claiming lives) jumps dramatically.  Unfortunately, there are growing numbers of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. In Ashland, Oregon (a small town of about 21,000)  for example, almost one-third of children have not been vaccinated.

Although a good deal of this is driven by misplaced fears and misinformation, I think most of the blame, ironically, should go to modern medicine and public health.  That is, there are probably very few people alive in the Western world who remember epidemic diseases like polio, measles and mumps, and the terrible damage they caused.  I’m sure hardly any of these parents realize that the only reason why they aren’t terrified that little Johnny will get polio, is because mass vaccination has nearly eliminated the disease.  And it’s precisely because there is no historical memory of mass outbreaks that some parents can forego vaccination for their children.  If and when there is a mass outbreak of some preventable disease, and children die, those parents will sing a different tune.


Jamelle Bouie is a writer for Slate. He has also written for The Daily Beast, The American Prospect and The Nation. His work centers on politics, race, and the intersection of the two.

You can find him on Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram as jbouie.
  • Hi there! {waves}

    I just wanted to stop by here and say “Happy New Year!” (smiles)

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    *Isaiah 43:18-19

  • daisy.mae

    what i don’t understand is how these children are allowed to go to school. i grew up in new york, and if you weren’t vaccinated, you couldn’t attend school – from pre-K through high school graduation! you had to show booster records as well…. and even in college they require vaccinations. so how is it that all of these kids are going without? it just blows my mind.

  • geo

    @daisy- my guess is that some parents proffer religious convictions for be against vaccinating their child. to protect themselves against litigation, i can see schools allowing non-vaccinated kids to enroll.

  • scott

    Could the reason be that folks are gripped by faux science that insists that vaccines spread AIDS or cause autism? It seems to me, that we are too worried about hurting peoples’ feelings rather than public health.

  • ladyfresshh

    correct me if i’m wrong but aren’t children affected were the ones not vaccinated

    now since those parents made that decision, then they are aware of the consequences
    and now they have to deal with them

    how would their decisions affect those who are vaccinated?
    isn’t that the point of vaccination?
    so how would this be a matter of public health at this point if your child is vaccinated?
    wouldn’t it be a matter of
    ‘those who have not vaccinated’ health concerns at that point?

  • daisy.mae

    not always – a child who is vaccinated can still catch (some) diseases, but in a much milder form. vaccines aren’t a 100% safeguard against disease, and in some instances don’t work. in addition, if a bug/virus of some sort is allowed to propagate among non-vaccinated children, it will be given greater opportunity to mutate, and potentially then become infectious to children previously vaccinated.

    in addition, there are children (albeit a small percentage) who DO have legitimate adverse reactions to vaccination… and in those circumstances i do understand not vaccinating, especially if it is a matter of your child’s life.

    my thoughts on litigation are that in the public school system it still wouldn’t be allowed, although i can see it in private schools.

  • i’d love to know if these parents are averse to vaccination because they were raised to be morally opposed or because they just feel like bucking the establishment. the reason most of them are thriving adults in the first place might be due in part to vaccinations and/or other preventative care they received as children. it would be pretty ironic if their parenting decisions were really in complete contrast to the ways in which they were brought up…which in turn would lead me to at least ask, “WHY?” if it were something along the lines of a guaranteed adverse reaction, i’d feel much better about a parent’s decision not to vaccinate a child. aside from that, knowing how easily kids contract and pass on infections, i’d have to say i’m a little confused as to why not.

  • just sayin’

    When enough people in a community are immune to a disease, they provide a buffer that keeps germs from infecting those too vulnerable for vaccination, or those for whom a vaccine doesn’t work or wears off.

    So if you child has a depressed immune system for some other reason or if your child is just of the unlucky ones, then my decision not to vaccinate my child puts your at serious risk. So I am increasing the risk of my child by denying them medical care, and at the same time placing yours at risk.

  • ladyfresshh

    Thank you daisy.mae & just sayin’

    next question
    (for our law suit happy era and my devil’s advocate curiosity)

    so if some of those children were vaccinated and still infected where does responsibility lie
    can those parents be sued?

    and what of the inverse
    can the school system and gov’t be sued if the ‘faux science’ (as scott put it) turns out to be true

    karas – it seems that this group have developed an extreme distrust of the medical establishment
    and i can’t say it’s entirely unjustified considering the current state of the medical industry relationship regarding insurance practices, gov’t regulation & pharmaceutical lobbying, marketing/advertising. but i also find it confusing as people who go to this extreme tend to home school with daisy mae and just sayin clarifying it appears highly irresponsible if not down right ignorant

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