California is sometimes thought of as la-la land, so it shouldn’t surprise us that it is the epicenter of the irrational parental movement against immunization. The shocking map of the resulting outbreak of measles, a disease virtually eradicated by 2000 thanks to vaccination, dramatizes the horror. Last year there were more than 600 cases in the United States. But, in January alone, there were 102 cases, more than 90 in California from right-wing Orange County to left-wing Marin. Apparently unvaccinated international visitors to Disney World have made it a breeding ground for contagion.
Campaigning for governor in 2011, New Jersey candidate Chris Christie, revealed an environmental cleanup plan to Don Imus, and likened immunizations to toxins we put into our environment. Using a now widely discredited study, he went on to say that New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation autism rate was linked to vaccination. In making a tough choice between public health and the rights of parents who believe that vaccinations cause autism, he came down on the side of parental choice. “Let them be heard.” Give them a “seat at the table.” Again yesterday, Christie said parents should have choice in the matter. Libertarian Senator Rand Paul shares his position.
Both have come close to saying that vaccinations may be a good idea but that parents, in weighing the decision, should opt for vaccinations of their own volition not in response to a government requirement. So, if parents choose not to vaccinate their children based on misinformation or undiluted idiocy, and that decision threatens others, so be it?
Christie certainly understands the public health implications of contagion. Last October, he quarantined (in conditions that approximated arrest) a woman exposed to ebola and directed 21 days of isolation for travelers returning from several African nations even if they were symptomless. Christie’s policy last fall was widely deemed to be an over-reaction. When it comes to vaccination for measles, he’s definitely in the under reaction category.
Measles is no laughing matter. As this morning’s Boston Globe editorial pointed out, the germs are airborne and can last for two hours after being sneezed or coughed into the air. Those who get the disease can suffer encephalitis, pneumonia, blindness, and deafness. Encephalitis can be deadly. Why would any parent not take steps to avoid that? As a NY Times editorial pointed out, ninety percent of those not immune will get sick upon exposure to the virus, and they, in turn, will infect others. I think that inaction at this level is a form of child abuse.
Not to vaccinate your own child is bad enough. But when your refusal to inoculate causes harm to others, such gross negligence is a public health menace and should be actionable.
So, how to address the lunacy behind the no vaccination movement? For one thing, all public school systems should require children have all their shots in order to enter school. Medical facilities can screen to keep sick children who aren’t inoculated out of their waiting rooms. Have we reached the point that families taking their children to public places should have to show their vaccination records, as one does in crossing national borders?
For half a century, groups of people have opposed fluoridation of the water supply, notwithstanding that two generations since the introduction of fluoride have had healthier teeth with far fewer cavities. Opponents were certain fluoridation was part of a communist conspiracy. You can laugh at the anti-fluoride zealots. If someone refuses fluoridation, there’s no impact on the health of the general public. Refusing immunization for contagious diseases is no laughing matter.
As The Wall St. Journal editorialized, in praising President Obama’s forthright message favoring immunization requirements and in criticizing Chris Christie’s pandering on this issue, “The real public health problem isn’t a lack of parental choice but a lack of common sense about vaccines, and politicians should do more to promote the latter.”
I welcome your comments in the section below.