The other day, as I was catching up on my vaccines Google Alert, I ran across a blog entry titled The Worst Things People Say About Unvaccinated Kids over at a website called Babble. In this article, the author lists what she considers to be the 5 worst things other people, presumably parents of vaccinated children, say about unvaccinated children, and she provides rebuttals to these assertions.
I am a bit torn about how to properly respond to this entry, as there is some truth to what the author says. For example , she points out that being told that ” I’m a bad parent, I will not be persuaded to see things your way.” This is true. Most parents who have chosen not to vaccinate their kids, whom I have had a chance to have any sort of meaningful interaction with, are not bad parents, but precisely the opposite is true. It is out of what they consider justified caution that they choose not to vaccinate. They are wrong in their analysis of the pros and cons of vaccines, but that does no make them bad parents. And, if your goal is to persuade them to analyze the issue properly, offending them by calling them stupid, idiots, or bad parents is not the way to go. Everyone makes wrong decisions, you and I included. So a little bit of civility and giving the other person the benefit of the doubt is called for, I think.
Having said that, let us look at her list in detail, as these thoughts, in my opinion, are something that a lot of anti-vaccine parents share.
1) “You better keep your unvaccinated kid away from mine because I don’t want mine to get sick!” — You do realize that in order for my child to get yours sick, my child would have to…actually be sick? In that regard, only children who are actually ill can pass along illness. It does not matter if a child was vaccinated or not, if a child is sick, then the child can pass along the illness. Unvaccinated children aren’t magical disease-carriers. In fact, many are rarely sick. If they are, they’ll stay home! It’s just not a good argument, because anyone *can* catch an illness, and unvaccinated kids aren’t extra-special in this regard, especially not when it comes to general mingling with society.
If they are sick, they’ll stay home! Simply put that’s a bit naive. Whooping cough looks just like a simple cold in the beginning, and severe symptoms don’t start until 10-12 days after. How many parents will immediately isolate their children just because they have a bit of cough? The answer is: not many. In the mean time, these kids are contagious, and commingling with other children, way before the symptoms get severe enough, and way before a diagnosis of whooping cough is made. A person sick with measles is contagious 4 days before the typical measles rash appears. Measles typically starts as a mild illness with a runny nose and mild temperature. It is simply not true that parents immediately isolate their child the moment she has a runny nose, or a sore throat. Again, sick children are very likely to be contagious and in contact with other children, way before the sickness is evident, or severe enough, for them to be kept home.
It is a fact that vaccines are very good at protecting against infectious disease. It is a fact that a vaccinated person has much lower chances than an unvaccinated person of catching the disease they were vaccinated against. It is a fact that unvaccinated people are much more likely, by orders of magnitude I would say, to catch and spread a disease. One need look no further than the recent measles outbreaks in the U.S. which were mostly traced back to unvaccinated people, even though, if you look at the population as a whole, the people unvaccinated against measles make up only a small portion.
The Minnesota measles outbreak affected 21 people at least, of which at least 17 cases were directly related to the one unvaccinated child who imported the disease from overseas. That’s over 85% of the outbreak directly related to the one unvaccinated child, if you count the unvaccinated child too.
Saying that unvaccinated children are just as harmless as vaccinated children is clearly wrong. Yes everyone *can* catch an illness, but the chances vary widely. Anyone *can* catch HIV, however a person who has unsafe sex, shares needles etc its at a much higher risk than a person who doesn’t. The author is missing this crucial distinction, in an effort I think to avoid facing the responsibility that the choice not to vaccinate one’s child carries. You can choose not to vaccinate, but you cannot rid yourself of the responsibility that your choice carries.
2) “But the greater good…!” — Nope. If there’s something out there that’s “for the greater good” and promises absolutely no harm to my child, guaranteed, sure, I’ll do it. But vaccines come with their own set of risks, and parents must be willing to accept them. And since unvaccinated kids aren’t disease-carriers (see point #1), it really isn’t that big a deal anyway.
This is a classic anti-vaccine point. There’s so many assumptions going into making this statement that I cannot possibly address them all in this entry. First, let’s say that at the very least the author expresses a complete disregard for other human beings, a complete disregard for children that cannot get vaccinated because of medical issues, who have to rely on other kids being vaccinated for limited protection. This sort of selfish attitude is not completely illogical however, but when taking into account the benefit to the child herself first, and the rest of society second, it is illogical, not to say a bit hypocritical, considering that, knowingly or not, the anti-vaccine parent herself is relying on herd immunity, or “the greater good”, to protect her child.
Secondly, she demands that she’ll only consider doing something for the greater good if it is absolutely, 100% harmless to her child, which is not unreasonable either. I will not harm my child to save another, and we cannot ask that parents put their children in harm’s way for the sake of others. The interesting thing here is that by not vaccinating her child, she is putting her at greater risk than the small vaccine risks which she demands to be zero. This is classic tunnel vision, missing the proverbial forest for a tree.
We do not ask that children be vaccinated solely to protect others, and it would be wrong if that was the case.We ask that children be vaccinated so, first and foremost, they would be protected. Any benefits to society are secondary, but are not in and off themselves a good enough reason to demand vaccination of a child. If a parent cannot be persuaded to vaccinate their child for the child’s sake, this sort of “greater good” argument stands no chance. Although, to be sure, as long as I’ve been interested in this issue I’ve not come across the demand that parents ought to vaccinate their children solely for the purpose of protecting others.
3) “Your child will die of the measles or another preventable illness!” — Highly unlikely, and not because of vaccines! Let’s suppose my child does catch the measles. The primary reason for complications/death from measles, according to the WHO, is vitamin A deficiency. In fact, the WHO recommends immediate vitamin A supplementation in areas where children frequently catch measles and aren’t vaccinated. My children aren’t deficient in vitamin A, and if they were, could easily be supplemented. Knowing the position of the WHO and why people do die in third-world countries eases my mind, because that is just not an issue here. (Along with poor nutrition and sanitation causing complications, also not an issue here.)
This is otherwise known as burying your head in the sand and refusing to acknowledge statistics. Even in developed countries such as the U.S. about one out of 1,000 children with measles will get encephalitis (a dangerous inflammation of the brain), and one or two out of 1,000 will die. To put that into perspective, if 1,000 children of parents that think along the lines of the author were to catch measles, 1 or 2 pairs of those parents would find out the hard way, how wrong their simple, two-line analysis was. Just recently I posted a video of just such a parent.
Measles is highly contagious. 90% of children with no immunity will get sick if exposed. On the flip side, the MMR vaccine is 95% effective at preventing measles. Saying that vaccines do not dramatically reduce the risk of catching measles is simply ignorant of the facts.
I am glad she chooses to rely on a WHO position paper, as the WHO is a reliable source. However, she makes the classic mistake of “cherry picking” as in the same paper, the WHO clearly states that:
Measles is an extremely contagious viral disease that, before the widespread use of measles vaccine, affected almost every child in the world.
This directly contradicts her first sentence.
High-risk groups for measles complications include infants and persons suffering from chronic diseases and impaired immunity, or from severe malnutrition, including vitamin A deficiency.
This contradicts what she says in her second sentence. Vitamin A deficiency has not been identified as “the primary reason” for complications, but just as one of a few that put people in high risk groups. Another reason mentioned here is “impaired immunity”. Does she know for sure that her children don’t have impaired immunity?
The live, attenuated measles vaccines that are now internationally available are safe, effective and relatively inexpensive and may be used interchangeably in immunization programmes.
I will never cease to be amazed how people will quote a part of a sentence from a source that actually maintains the complete oposite position from the one they are trying to support with their cherry picking.
4) “You don’t love your children!” — This is just a rude thing to say! Every parent loves his/her children, and makes what s/he believes to be the best choices. You may disagree and that’s your right, but it is absolutely wrong to say that a parent doesn’t love their child.
She’s absolutely right here. I don’t think many people who are genuinely interested in dialogue will utter those words,but anyone who does has clearly removed himself from the arena of rational, civilized dialogue. When it comes to anti-vaccine proponents my rule of thumb is: doubt their reasoning, not their intentions.
5) “If you don’t vaccinate, your kid can’t go to school!” — False! In 48 states there are medical exemptions, in most religious exemptions, and in about half, philosophical exemptions. Yes, you can use them for college, too. Basically you just have to fill them out and your kids can attend public school, without any vaccines at all. This is a scare tactic that schools and doctors use to get reluctant parents to vaccinate, and it is a lie. (All of you who are afraid of your kids going to school with unvaccinated children…they probably already do!)
Also true. While you are required to provide proof that your child is up to date, all states allow exemptions for medical reasons, and almost all allow for religious reasons. Parents have the choice to seek an exemption if they do not want to vaccinate, however, as I have pointed out before, if their child catches the disease and ends up sickening other kids, those parents have to be held responsible, because they willingly choose to put the community at risk.
The article I reviewed here gives us a glimpse into the anti-vaxxer’s mind. It is my opinion that most anti-vaccine proponents share a few charachteristics which include the following:
- They have convinced themselves that the diseases are harmless, or at the very least that the risk from the disease is much less than the risk from the vaccines.
- They believe their children are no more likely to catch and spread a disease than vaccinated children.
- They believe incidence has decreased independent of vaccines.
- They think that the statistics about the dangers presented by vaccine-preventable diseases are nothing more than fear-mongering.
- They believe vaccines do not work at preventing these diseases.
These beliefs are wrong and not supported by evidence, however it is clear to see that once one accepts these premises as true, the decision not to vaccinate does follow logically. Their conclusion is wrong, as they are starting with the wrong premises, but they are not stupid or idiots, at least the majority aren’t. They are in most cases just as intelligent, if not more intelligent and educated, than the average person. The only difference between anti-vaccine proponents and pro-healthers is the required standard of evidence. If you really look at it, all disagreements boil down to one question: “What is to be considered acceptable evidence?”
This unfortunately means that it is highly unlikely, if not impossible, to change the mind of an anti-vaccine believer, since in order to do that, you’d have to completely change how they assign weight to evidence, akin to trying to convince a religious person to become an atheist on the basis of rational arguments.
And that is something you and I may not be able to do in the vast majority of cases.