Fists, noses, and a deadly virus

Measles was declared eliminated in the US in 2000, but still affects other areas of the world and killed 145,000 people worldwide in 2013. It’s airborne, highly contagious, has no specific treatment, and carries a risk of severe side effects. It is especially dangerous to pregnant women.


Now that’s an ugly trend line. Measles is on the uptick in America.  Not coincidentally, there are more people who aren’t vaccinating their children against this disease. According to the CDC, the majority of people who get measles are unvaccinated. I won’t begin to speculate why people are not vaccinating their children because I refuse to lend credibility to the paranoid ideas of the so-called “anti-vaxxers.”

If you’ve stumbled upon my blog hoping to find support for whacked out ideas about vaccines poisoning children or being part of some plot on the part of “Big Pharma” to sell more drugs, you will be sadly disappointed. I know I won’t change your mind, but rest assured, I think you’re crazy.

Here’s my personal experience with this movement.

My eldest was born in 2000. The internet wasn’t quite the traffic-jammed super-highway of mis- dis- and conflicting information that it is today, so I had only heard a little about a link between autism and the vaccine the kidlet was due to get on her first birthday. I talked to the doctor about it and he said that he said the study was untrue, but if we wanted to wait six months to have her vaccinated, that would be fine. So that’s what we did.

Brief history. Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a study in 1998 purporting to show that autism is caused by the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. You can read about the course of events in the well-referenced Wikipedia link above or start here in the New York Times, but the uptake is that the study was found to be fraudulent and unethical. Wakefield lost his license to practice medicine in his home country, the UK, and is not licensed in the US. Bizarrely, he hasn’t been universally shunned.

A nervous new parent, I thought we were being prudent in holding off for half a year. Heavens forbid something would have happened in those days like happened to Dave and Jennifer Simon (not THAT David Simon) who took their six month old daughter to the doctor when she was sick with a cold. Later, they received a call – an unvaccinated child with the measles had been in the office as well, possibly exposing their baby to the disease. They had to keep her in quarantine for 28 days.

I’ve seen this argument recently — if your child is vaccinated and you believe vaccines are effective, why do you care if I vaccinate my kids?

And this gets to a topic I find fascinating. I’m not just concerned for my own children, but also for everyone out there who is vulnerable to a disease like measles. There are people who can’t receive immunizations for medical reasons and people who have weak immune systems who rely on the rest of us to keep up herd immunity

Apparently, not everyone feels that way.

I used to believe that the right of a parent to make decisions for his/her child was nearly inviolable, extreme situations excepted of course. But I think there is a very strong case to be made here that the welfare of society as a whole supersedes a parent’s right to be a crackpot.

As the saying goes, my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins. (note – the attribution of that quote is its own little controversy).

Seems like the rights of some innocent noses — a six month old one in California and a thousand others in Arizona — have been violated.

1 thought on “Fists, noses, and a deadly virus”

  1. Good topic. Have thought contagious disease situation thru various times and have concluded following thus far. Carriers of contagious disease are aggressors if they knowingly possess or have been exposed to disease, and then knowingly interact with others who have not taken reasonable precaution against the disease. Broad availability of a vaccine does reduce culpability for a carrier, as it is reasonable to assume that those who value the vaccine will choose to use it.

    Proper role of public health policy is to help people defend themselves against carrier aggression. Absent due cause, however, public health officials and those seeking to vaccinate people against their will become the aggressors.

    Mandatory vaccinations also create conditions of moral hazard where people take less precaution against disease because they believe that their risky behavior is insured by public policy.

    Voluntary vaccinations, on the other hand, encourage formation of markets for disease control. For example, certain health care providers might seek to create ‘measle free’ environments to cater to customers who would value them. Such an environment might require proof of vaccination prior to entry.

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