If you have been a new parent over the last two decades, then you have likely wrestled with the vaccine and immunization issue. The issue being the lingering question of how safe are vaccines and how reckless is it to opt out of a prescribed vaccine regimen? Everyone has their own answer to this question, and despite all the evidence for or against vaccination, parents move forward with their decisions with an overwhelming sense of confidence. Unlike a decade or so ago, when questioning the status quo of vaccination moved out of the fringe and became a subject matter for the mainstream, the practice of questioning and opting out of a vaccination regimen has become highly taboo. Any media outlet that is not leaning far to the left, will support the idea that vaccines are relatively, if not wholly, safe and that “VACtavist” (as they call themselves) are misinformed, delusional, and putting the great many of us in peril by not vaccinating their children. After the outing of Dr. Andrew Wakefield with falsification of evidence linking vaccines with autism, the tide has turned against the intrepid “VACtavists” and many concerned parents are feeling not so civil towards the non-vaccinating kind.
People are upset because, even though access to vaccines are widespread in the industrialized world, outbreaks of diseases like measles are still rampant. The World Health Organization reports outbreaks in many countries where vaccination rates have gone down: As of June – France (12,699 cases in 2011, more than in all of 2010 already, including six deaths), Spain (2,261), Italy (1,500), Germany (1,193, one death), Switzerland (580), Romania, Belgium, Denmark, and Turkey. There have already been 550 measles cases in England and Wales this year compared with 33 all of last year, and the U.S. has seen 156 cases as of mid-June, compared to a total of 56 cases per year from 2001-2008. The vaccine faithful are none too pleased about this development, as the thinking goes, one person opting out decreases the immunity of the herd.
The ire and venom being directed at these “VACtavists” is easily channeled as many of them reside in affluent, liberal communities, that are rife with Whole Foods, yoga studios, and a Prius in every driveway (just the kind of liberal stereotype that certain portions of America love to hate). According to an article for Big Think by writer David Ropeik, Marin County, one of the richest and most educated areas in California, had one of the lowest rates of vaccination statewide and the second highest rate of whopping cough. Now whether this is damning evidence enough to turn the conversation against those skeptical of vaccines is another issue, but Ropeik makes a case, not only for vaccination, but for finding a solution to this “health crisis” by instituting certain incentives/punishments for those who opt out. Ropeik proposes the following:
Perhaps it should be harder to opt out of vaccination. (Twenty-one states allow parents to decline vaccination of their children simply for “philosophical” reasons. 48 allow a religious exemption but few demand documentation from parents to support claims that their faith precludes vaccination.)
Perhaps there should be higher health care/insurance costs for unvaccinated people.
Or we could do it in a positive way, with reduced health care/insurance costs for people who do get vaccinated, ‘healthy behavior’ discounts paid for by what society saves by avoiding the spread of disease.
There could be restrictions on the community/social facilities unvaccinated people can use, or limits on the social activities in which they can participate, like lengthy school trips for kids, etc.
Here’s an idea; vaccination, including boosters, should be required of anyone who wants to work in health care.
For certain, Ropeik, who is neither a doctor, politician, or an enforcer of public policy (many of you may be thankful of this fact) says, “We live in a society; we are all rowing in the boat together,” Ropeik points out. “I’m not calling for more big government. I’m just calling for government to do what it always does when we can’t protect ourselves as individuals.”
Is it fair to take parents to task if they opt out of what is considered the normal vaccine regimen? Do governments and individuals have the right to question parent’s philosophical and/or religious objections to such practices as refusing immunization for their children? Are the health and financial costs associated with non-vaccination enough to warrant an override of certain civil liberties and freedoms? Is this sort enforcement/punishment simply un-American?