First, a full disclosure: I have been vaccinated against measles, mumps, diphtheria, rubella, whooping cough, smallpox, and shingles and have had none of the maladies some people worry about. At one time or another, my wife received all of these same vaccinations. Our kids were both immunized, and they have chosen to have their kids immunized. None of us has ever had an adverse reaction to a vaccination.
The vaccination controversy currently raging in the United States demonstrates that it is possible to be intelligent, sane, and irrational all at the same time. For example, I recently received an online article written by an obviously intelligent person who was ranting about the imminent possibility, as he sees it, that the government will mandate vaccinations. He refers to America as a “fascist state” and calls doctors who push for the vaccination of children “medical Satanists” who are “assaulting” children with “poisons.” His high school English teachers obviously never told him that name-calling and hyperbole obscure one’s point. (By the way, this brouhaha can be traced back to a fraudulent 1998 research paper whose author eventually lost his medical license.)
On the other side of this debate are some equally irrational rants. The author of a recent opinion piece in USA Today asserted that (a) parents who refuse to vaccinate should go to jail, and (b) vaccines are “safe and effective.” No, these parents should not go to jail. Last time I checked, America is not a fascist state. Parents should have the right to refuse to vaccinate their children. Likewise, schools, being a public trust, should have the right to refuse admission to those kids. Furthermore, it’s true that vaccines aren’t foolproof safe. As is the case with any drug or medical procedure, vaccines do involve risks, even very serious ones.
It’s clear, however, that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks. The diseases that I was vaccinated for as a child once caused a good deal of suffering and death. And there are confirmed accounts of suffering and death associated with childhood vaccines, but they are few and far between, and researchers have been unable to confirm cause and effect. Furthermore, nearly everything involves risk to some degree. There’s risk associated with swallowing food—people do die from choking on food—but I highly recommend eating!
In 2012 (the last year for which statistics are available), the leading causes of death in children ages one to four were unintentional injury, congenital anomalies, malignant and benign neoplasms, homicide, heart disease, influenza, septicemia, cerebrovascular problems, and respiratory disease. The only reason measles, whooping cough, diphtheria, and other childhood illnesses from years past are not on the list is vaccines.
Many, if not most, of the injuries that are the leading cause of death in children ages one to four are sustained in automobile crashes. How can parents who don’t allow vaccinations yet transport their kids in cars explain the inconsistency? Per year, a lot more kids drown than die of vaccination. I doubt there is anything approaching one-to-one correspondence between being antivaccine and anti–water play.
Parents who don’t allow vaccinations are well-intentioned, which proves that being well-intentioned and not thinking straight are not mutually exclusive. But then, people who suggest that doctors who advocate vaccinations are Satanists or that jail is the right place for anti-vaccination parents aren’t thinking straight either.
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at email@example.com or (817) 295-1751.