The Anti-Vaccination Movement is Dangerous Nonsense. PERIOD.
On Monday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took a break from being a schoolyard bully and brought his mighty intellect to bear on the subject of vaccinations. He called for “balance” in the vaccination debate and claimed that parents should have a “choice” on vaccinations. It’s unclear if this is simply a reflexive reaction of President Obama’s earlier call that parents get their children fully vaccinated, or if it is reflective of Christie’s actual beliefs. It matters little – either way, it is nonsense. Unfortunately, it is nonsense that seems to be increasing in popularity.
In a country where 42% of the people believe in creationism, that Americans are inclined to believe in nonsense is scarcely surprising. But nonsense comes in many different flavors. There is insulting nonsense. There is innocuous nonsense. There is utterly deranged nonsense. But the anti-vaccination movement is something more: it is dangerous nonsense. And the fact that we are dignifying this movement to the point where we speak of the “debate” over vaccinations is problematic. Let me be perfectly clear: there is no debate here. This is not a matter where reasonable people can look at the evidence and come to different opinions. This is a matter where one side is right and the other side is a mix of delusional and stupid.
The science on vaccination is not ambiguous. On one side we have countless studies showing no link between vaccination and autism. While some vaccines do carry a small risk of negative side effects, this is outweighed by the vast improvement in public health, and decreases in mortality from easily preventable diseases. On the other side we have the questionable claims of a doctor of shaky ethics, a few celebrities, and now, apparently Chris Christie. We have a cardiologist who somehow managed to graduate medical school while holding that the “flu kills just about no one.” We have people with the odd and puzzling belief that speaking out against the anti-vaccination movement somehow constitutes “hate speech.” This is not a debate.
The problem is that, while we frame this as a “debate,” the anti-vaccination movement is causing damage. The latest outbreak of measles at Disneyland – which shows no sign of abating – is simply the most recent example. The “choice” of over-privileged parents to forgo vaccinating their children is a choice that has wider consequences. Were the impact limited to their own families, this would be less of a concern. Unfortunately, that impact is not limited. Not everyone is unvaccinated by choice. Some are simply too young. Some are immunocompromised for any number of reasons. Those people rely on herd immunity – having a sufficient proportion of the population vaccinated to prevent the ready spread of disease. When vaccination rates drop too low, herd immunity is compromised, and those who are unable to be vaccinated become vulnerable. The vaccination rate required for herd immunity differs, depending on the disease, but in some communities, we’re already starting to see rates dip below what is required. And that is putting people’s lives at risk.
This is disgraceful. Pseudoscience, for that is all the anti-vaccination movement is, should not be allowed to affect public health or public policy. Yet, when parents chose to leave their children unvaccinated, they are affecting public health. When a buffoon like Christie lends weight to the notion of “balance” and choice in the question of vaccinations, that make this movement all the stronger and all the more dangerous.
This nonsense needs to end. The notion of allowing for a philosophical exemption to vaccinations simply needs to be done away with. Have a philosophical objection to vaccinating your children? Neat. Keep them out of public school. Happily, we’re starting to see some movement in that direction. Is that enough? No. There’s also the beginnings of an argument for holding parents civilly liable if it can be shown that their failure to vaccinate results in an outbreak. Is that enough? Also, no. The rhetoric and arguments of the anti-vaccination movement are themselves much like a virus. And that virus must be eradicated. No, this isn’t a debate, when one side is so obviously and laughably wrong. But that side cannot be allowed to spread their stupidity without opposition.
The anti-vaccination movement is, of course, free to spew their nonsense far and wide. I would be the last person to suggest taking away someone’s free speech on simple grounds of idiocy. But their claims need to be vigorously countered and exposed for the rank and dangerous nonsense that it is.
Though it would be neat if idiots like Christie would, you know, learn to shut up when they don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m not holding my breath.
Image: Public Domain
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