The anti-vaccination movement is all over the news yet again thanks to a recent outbreak of measles affecting 102 people in 14 states (per the CDC), most of those cases stemming from one infected person who visited Disneyland in December. The US government states that “measles is the most deadly of all childhood rash/fever illnesses,” and asserts unequivocally that “getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent measles.” The staff at The Mayo Clinic, the largest nonprofit medical group practice in the world, agrees, adding that the measles vaccine is important for promoting and preserving herd immunity.
In case you’re not familiar with what herd immunity is or the way that it works, here it is explained, again, by the US government, on their website vaccines.gov:
“When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines—such as infants, pregnant women, or immunocompromised individuals—get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained.”
Simple, right? It makes perfect sense. There’s really not much to question there. If everyone who can get vaccinated against communicable disease does get vaccinated against communicable disease, everyone is safer, even those who can’t get vaccinated for valid reasons, like being too young or too sick.
It’s essential to recognize, though, that there is no room for anyone to choose to drop out of the herd immunity equation because of philosophical quandaries not based in science, like the now firmly debunked notion that vaccines cause autism or for antiquated, dangerous religious reasons.
According to the popular website/Facebook page IFLScience, “Herd immunity against measles requires that 90-95% of the entire population are immune, whereas vaccination coverage is measured as the percentage vaccinated of the target population – which only includes people who are eligible for vaccination. This means that to achieve 95% immunity in the population for measles, vaccination coverage needs to be higher than 95%. This is the scientific argument for a public health policy that aims at 100% vaccination coverage.”
Getting your child vaccinated against childhood disease is not a matter of choice; it’s a moral imperative. There is an ethical mandate to participate in the insurance of herd immunity for all, because everyone benefits from it. There are no ifs ands or buts about it. You either act responsibly and in the best interest of your child and all children, or you are a selfish, misguided fool.
So to the blogger who wrote this incredibly arrogant and dumb screed about her right to forego immunization for her child because it is “not her job” to keep others safe, all I can say is: you don’t get it. And you’re much too proud of the logical fallacy you’re using as the basis of your argument. No one is telling you, by suggesting that you must vaccinate your child, that the health and safety of their child is more important than the health and safety of your child.
They are telling you that the health and safety of all children and in fact people of all ages is paramount.
If the argument for herd immunity means nothing to you regarding vaccinating your child, perhaps the moving words of beloved children’s author Roald Dahl will make a difference for you:
Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.
“Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.
“I feel all sleepy,” she said.
In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.
The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her. That was … in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her.
On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunized against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.