Unless you’ve been trapped under something heavy for the past week or so, you’re likely aware that we’re in the throes of a measles outbreak, partly due to the fact that a bunch of Jenny McCarthy acolytes are refusing to vaccinate their kids because they think that it causes autism.
Vaccines do not cause autism. The only reason people think they do is because a quack scientist named Andrew Wakefield conducted a study using falsified data for his own financial gain. (More on that from Martha Kempner here.)
But the anti-vaccine movement is impervious to things like logic, reason, and science. And as a result, a lot of uninformed people are putting a lot of kids’ lives in danger.
Most states require children to be vaccinated before they can be sent to public school. This makes sense. After all, children are hotbeds of diseases—seriously, have you seen a child lately? Look, I’m as much of a fan of kids as the next person. Some of my best friends have kids. But they’re gross.**
And one diseased child leads to ten diseased children, which leads to a country overrun with diseased children breakdance-fighting in the streets and whacking at each others’ speckled faces with lead pipes.
There are exceptions to the “Vaccinate Your Gross Kid” rule, of course. Some kids literally can’t get vaccinated because they have compromised immune systems and a vaccination might kill them. In every state, the parents of these kids can seek a medical exemption from the vaccination requirement. In addition, most states also allow parents to claim a religious exemption from the vaccination requirement. Because apparently, some people think that the Bible says “don’t vaccinate your kids,” I guess. Right after the bit about not growing separate crops in the same field.
And finally, some states permit parents to obtain a “personal belief” exemption based on their feelings against vaccination. (Here’s a map of what states permit what sorts of exemptions.)
It’s that last exemption that seems to be causing the most problems, now that we’re surrounded by parents who are listening to celebrity drivel from the likes of Jenny McCarthy and Rob Schneider.
Schools are already seeing cases of measles, forcing them to quarantine kids and ban unvaccinated ones from attendance. Still, many schools that have yet to see any measles cases are reluctant to take preventive action, like requiring all unvaccinated children to immediately get vaccinated before allowing them to return to school. And some parents—whose kids are at special risk for contracting measles—are none too pleased.
Take parents like Carl Krawitt, whose son Rhett has been fighting leukemia since he was 2 years old, according to NPR. Rhett is now in remission, but his immune system isn’t strong enough to handle immunizations yet. So if the parents of some unvaccinated kid unwittingly send their measles-ridden spawn to Rhett’s elementary school, that kid is putting Rhett’s life in danger.
There’s this thing called herd immunity, you see. It means that vaccinated kids can protect unvaccinated ones from contracting measles, but only if enough kids actually get inoculated.
Via the Washington Post:
The basic idea is that a group (the “herd”) can avoid exposure to a disease by ensuring that enough people are immune so that no sustained chains of transmission can be established. This protects an entire population, especially those who are too young or too sick to be vaccinated.
If our herd immunity goes kaput, the elderly, the sick, and babies too young to be vaccinated are at an increased risk of catching diseases that their immune systems won’t be able to fight off.
The bottom line is, everyone needs to vaccinate their stinkin’ kids, except for those parents who have sick ones, in which case the vaccinated kids will protect the unvaccinated kids, and we can live in a blissfully measles-free society.
And we were living in a blissfully measles-free society. Measles in the United States was eradicated in 2000. Except for the incidental case here and there caused by unvaccinated travelers (furriners, and the like), we folks in the United States were sitting pretty. (And no, don’t blame the outbreak on immigrants. Mexico and Central America have childhood immunization programs, and Mexico’s immunization rate is 99 percent. That’s higher than the United States’.)
But now that more parents are refusing to vaccinate their kids, we’re all probably going to die of the bubonic plague in the next year or so. Except for people in West Virginia and Mississippi, that is. West Virginia and Mississippi don’t allow parents to get religious or personal exemptions in those states, only medical exemptions. And truly, wouldn’t it be funny if the rest of the country died of the plague, leaving only West Virginians and Mississippians to rebuild civilization? Not funny “ha ha,” more like funny “that’s fucked up.”
Ultimately, parents uninformed enough to spit in the face of science shouldn’t be permitted to shuffle their children into class with immunosuppressed kids like Rhett Krawitt. Rhett’s father Carl, as you might imagine, thinks that his local California district should stop allowing parents to obtain anything but medical exemptions for vaccinations.
Via NPR’s Lisa Aliferis:
Carl Krawitt has had just about enough. “It’s very emotional for me,” he said. “If you choose not to immunize your own child and your own child dies because they get measles, OK, that’s your responsibility, that’s your choice. But if your child gets sick and gets my child sick and my child dies, then … your action has harmed my child.” … Now Krawitt and his wife, Jodi, have emailed the district’s superintendent, requesting that the district “require immunization as a condition of attendance, with the only exception being those who cannot medically be vaccinated.”
When I called Marin County health officer Matt Willis to see what he thought of keeping unvaccinated kids out of school even if there were no confirmed cases, he sounded intrigued. “This is partly a legal question,” he said.
But he was open to the idea and said he was going to check with the state to see what precedent there was to take such an action.
School districts in California already don’t allow kids to bring peanut butter to school because of other kids’ nut allergies. But they’re going to let potentially measles-ridden ones run around willy-nilly? When I was in high school in Philadelphia, there was a measles outbreak—the Great Outbreak of 1991—and we were all required to bring proof of vaccination before we were permitted to return to school. It’s just common sense, and it should be perfectly constitutional.
I did a quick search for legal cases regarding compulsory vaccination requirements in public schools and didn’t find anything in California. Just last month in New York, however, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals had something to say on the matter. Several plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the New York Department of Education, claiming that New York’s requirement that all children be vaccinated in order to attend public school violated their rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. (Surprisingly, plaintiffs did not state a claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. You remember RFRA, right? I wrote a bunch about the birth control benefit and RFRA. Here’s a refresher, if you need one.)
The Court disagreed, citing a 1922 Supreme Court case, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, in which the Court held that Massachusetts’ compulsory vaccination law was constitutional under the 14th Amendment and that mandatory vaccination was within Massachusetts’ police power.
Essentially, SCOTUS said that individual liberty sometimes needs to be sacrificed for the greater good: “The right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death.” The Supreme Court today would likely rule the same thing. And even if plaintiffs had stated a claim under RFRA, the Supreme Court already implied in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby that a “forcing me to vaccinate my kid is a violation of my religious freedom” claim probably wouldn’t hold up in court. So there’s definitely legal precedent for compulsory vaccination, especially in areas like the Krawitts’ Marin County, which has the highest vaccination opt-out rate in the Bay Area. Or at least it did in 2013, when 7.8 percent of parents in Marin County opted for a personal belief exemption.
In order to maintain herd immunity, the CDC says that between 92 and 95 percent of children should receive two doses of the MMR vaccine. Now, I’m no mathlete, but if 7.8 percent of parents in Marin County are opting out, that means Marin County is skating on the edge of herd immunity loss.
It also means that anti-vaxxer parents in Marin are playing Russian roulette, not only with their children’s lives, but with other children’s lives.
And that’s simply not fair to kids like Rhett.
So I have an idea: Why don’t you vaccinate your goddamn kids. Do it for America.