Recently, on one of the public television channels, I ran across the last five minutes of a Frontline episode on “the vaccination controversy.” It’s not really fair to judge a program on five minutes, and I recognize that, but I am going to do this anyway.
The portion that I saw had a political scientist talk to a panel of women — not one man in the bunch — about whether they thought that vaccination was presented as a choice. After these women complained that they felt that had no choice but to vaccinate, the political scientist explained that parents needed to be allowed to feel that they were making the decision. And the voice over explained that it was a battle between pediatricians and public health officials and the need for parents to control what risks their children face.
Should parents make the decision to vaccinate or not? No.
Oh, wrong, that “no” is not appropriate.
It should be “hell no.”
Having a child is a choice. Vaccinating — at least with the big ones, the MMR, DPT and polio vaccines — should not be. Any more than having a license should be optional for driving.
You may own a car, but before you can sit behind the wheel you need to prove that you can actually drive. The exceptions are for vehicles driven totally on private property. Anything else risks the life of everyone who happens to be on the road.
You want to have an exception for vaccination, for it to be optional? Fine. Vaccination is a civic responsibility, the same as being trained and showing that you have been trained to drive is. So let’s have the same conditions apply.
You can choose to not vaccinate your child as long as that child is kept isolated from any human being outside its family. You cannot send them to public school. You cannot take them to daycare. You certainly cannot take them to a store. You cannot take them anywhere where anyone who has not been vaccinated for valid medical reasons may be exposed, or where they may be exposed to disease.
This is not a matter like motorcycle helmets, or even child car seats, where the issue is one of safety for the rider and indirect costs to society. Unvaccinated children pose dangers not only to themselves but to others who cannot be vaccinated: those who have immunocompromised systems, those who are too young to vaccinate, and those who have had allergic reactions to vaccines or their constituent parts. The only way for those people to be safe is through herd immunity; as long as a high enough percentage of the population is vaccinated,* the disease cannot get a foothold and it dies out.
For a program like Frontline to allow a voice to the anti-vaccination forces is to give them credibility. It is hard enough to fight against people who still believe falsely that there has been shown a link between vaccines and autism,** who claim that they contain mercury-containing thimerosol (they have not for years, and autism diagnoses have continued to climb well past the time when they did) without a public television show giving a crackpot like Jenny McCarthy a forum.
I expect better of PBS.
*Also, adults, get your booster shots. Contrary to the popular belief, a single set of vaccinations will not protect forever in all cases; at least with the DPT the initial shots have to be followed at ten-year intervals. This is especially true of adults who work with children a lot. Given that there have been a lot of cases out west, this might be especially true of people on the Coast.