Wednesday, July 2, 2014

On Vaccines

In my suggested topics entry I took a very hard-line stance on vaccines:

5. Vaccines! LOL

People who do not vaccinate their children should be imprisoned and their kids taken from them.

Anti vaccine jerkoffs are endangering me, you, their children, our children, and everybody else because they have poor scientific literacy combined with a narcissistic belief that only their child matters.

To which I got a reasonable response:

The summary for vaccines seems a little hardlined, what about those people who do not vaccinate due to religious beliefs?
To which I gave a less reasonable response:

I guess they could be allowed to live in quarantine or in communities in remote areas. It's a public health issue as far as I am concerned. Anti-vaccination people are a danger to public health.

Religious anti-vaccers endanger the public, and are common sources of avoidable outbreaks.

People who can't have vaccines due to real health concerns (like compromised immune systems) have the right to benefit from herd immunity. People who deliberately endanger the public do not.

Yeah, I know, I am uncustomarily hardline on this topic. But I do not see any valid opposition to vaccinations. It's like Gay marriage, I just don't see a valid opposition. I try to see both sides, but if one side is "I'm too special to shoulder my share of the burden," then I don't view that as valid. I also do not view willful ignorance as a valid position.

To be clear, I do think that anti-vaccers are way off base.  I do think that the position is indefensible.  But I should probably try to be more diplomatic.  Also, I should probably be less flip when I talk about policy ideas.

Fortunately I am just a blogger with a reach of a couple dozen readers, so I feel like I can get away with periodically being a jerk.

Obviously persecution and transportation to ghettos and concentration camps is not good governance.  If I actually advocated what I described in my post and response a Hitler analogy would actually be appropriate.  

So I would like to say that I do not advocate imprisoning anti-vaccers, taking away their children, ghettoizing them, or transporting them to concentration camps.

But refusing vaccinations does really piss me off.  I am going to use an analogy to explain why:  

      Imagine you lived in a city, and in that city everyone owned a gun. Some people kept their guns in safes, and some people carried them around on their hips, and some jackasses randomly fired them into the air (for religious reasons or because they had a condition that made them unable to avoid occasional discharges).  In this imaginary scenario guns also get used on people.  Criminals shoot people and steal people's guns.  Even people who keep their guns in a safe sometimes get shot.  But at least most people agree that shooting your gun into the air is wrong.  
      Now imagine there is a growing group of people who have become convinced that there is a bogey man, and the only way to scare him off is by randomly firing guns into the air.  It doesn't matter to these people that the bogey man is not real, they believe in the bogey man and no amount of proof will convince them otherwise.  These people claim that they should have the right to defend themselves against the bogey man by firing their guns in the air.
     During the normal state of affairs people are pretty safe from randomly falling bullets.  Most people are responsible with their guns.  And even though bullets are dangerous they are also very small.  Most of the time the bullets will just fall to the ground or hit a roof.  Occasionally someone will get hit, but usually it isn't fatal, and this is just accepted as a fact of life.  And this stays true just as long as the number of people firing their guns in the air stays small.  Once greater numbers of people are firing into the air the relative safety is destroyed.
     In this analogy the gun that everybody has is your immune system.  The bullets are diseases.  The gun safes are vaccines and good hygiene.  The open carriers are people who just get vaccinations.  The criminals are non-vaccine preventable diseases.  And the people who shoot their guns in the air are people who do not vaccinate.

As far as I'm concerned refusing to vaccinate is the same as periodically firing a gun into the air.  I support your right to carry a gun, but not to fire it in the air in a populated area. 


  1. I like your analogy, I find it to be a very effective argument. To a point. Unfortunately I am still unable to see it as a workable argument against religious exemption of vaccinations. Here is why, you use the example of

    "Now imagine there is a growing group of people who have become convinced that there is a bogey man, and the only way to scare him off is by randomly firing guns into the air. It doesn't matter to these people that the bogey man is not real, they believe in the bogey man and no amount of proof will convince them otherwise. These people claim that they should have the right to defend themselves against the bogey man by firing their guns in the air."

    I see this as a very apt and accurate description of those anti-vaccers who like to quote the fraudulent work of Andrew Wakefield, but, for those who exempt for religious reasons, such as Christian Scientists, Wakefield and his research is entirely irrelevant. They do not only refuse vaccines they also refuse chemotherapy for cancer, surgery to reset a broken bone, and most other forms of modern medicine. Even those that do support other forms of modern medicine may still hold religious opposition to vaccinations.

    In the growing debate over mandatory vaccinations and pushes by public interest groups, doctors associations, and a few politicians I've read, the exemption for religious belief is coming under attack more and more frequently seeking to take away their exempt status. The question I always have in these arenas of debate is, at what point do we consider the public risk factor great enough to suspend a group of people's religious freedoms?

    I understand the risk posed from unvaccinated children even toward those that have received all of the immunizations, but is it a significant enough risk to suspend first amendment rights in this situation? I cannot say that it is. In fact, I would say the risk isn't even close. I am reminded of an example the CDC used to refute the myth that most people that contract a disease that is immunized against.

    Though just an example to illustrate it does suggest that, in the case of measles at least, any risk toward those children that have already been properly vaccinated in negligible to minimal. But this is only an example, not actual data so lets look at the data instead.

  2. Again using the CDC as a source ( we see that there were 159 reported cases of measles in the United States between January 1, 2013 and August 24, 2013. When dealing with a country whose population is approximately 314 million according to the census bureau I would say we already have a pretty minimal risk but lets take it a step further. Of the reported cases, 82% were among people who had not been previously vaccinated, 9% were among those with an unknown vaccination status and 8% were amongst people who had been previously vaccinated. That makes 13 people vaccinated people within a country of almost 314 million people who contracted measles. Even if we automatically assume that all 13 of those people were exposed due to coming into contact with an unvaccinated person (which is most likely) then the risk of a vaccinated child catching measles from an unvaccinated child is extremely low.

    I do not point this out to argue against vaccinations in general, I agree that there is no scientific or logically valid argument against vaccination. However, you state that you do not see any valid argument against vaccination and I can't agree there. Unlike gay marriage this is a time when I would argue that religious belief is a perfectly valid and reasonable argument against vaccinations and that those that exercise their legitimate beliefs in good faith are equally entitled to the protection of herd immunity since there is no evidence of significant enough public risk to justify suspension of religious freedom.

    I hope this makes sense. I haven't had enough coffee yet so my brain is still a little sluggish.

    1. Sorry for the length of response. It actually made me break it up.

    2. I'd say your argument was sound. Religious exemptions should be allowed, but I do wonder whether unvaccinated children should be in public schools.

      Religious groups that claim exemptions are often living in religious communities, and those that live in the general population are typically at low enough densities to avoid unduly endangering the broader population.

      It is true that religious groups that refuse vaccinations typically pose a stronger threat to themselves than others. In 2005 I recall there was a Mennonite mumps outbreak in Canada that sickened hundreds of children and some pregnant women. The outbreak was caused by a Mennonite visiting from Europe where there was another outbreak among unvaccinated Mennonites. The threat to the broader public was minimal.

      If people want to risk their lives and the lives of their children for religious reasons they should have that right. It seems bizarre to me, but we do have freedom of religion in this country. But that does not extend to people afraid of the bogey man.

    3. I concur, no bogey man exemptions. And even amongst those with religious exemptions it seems perfectly fair to exclude them from school when there is a risk present. Even if they are only really a risk to themselves.