When I see debates about vaccines online -- and as someone who writes about parenting culture I see a lot -- I used to pat myself on the back for not getting mixed up in the fray. I mean, what's it to me what other people do with their kids? I'm secure in my own choices. Besides, even if I wanted to change the minds of anti-vaccine advocates, how could I?
I have two reasons for rethinking my silence: Jack and Clio. I came to know both children through their mothers' blogs and have been following along with their diagnosis and treatment for leukemia. Their illnesses prevent them from receiving live vaccines such as the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) shot. Some kids get diagnosed before they have a chance to receive all of their vaccines, but even kids who were vaccinated, as Jack and Clio were, remain vulnerable to contagious diseases because of their compromised immune systems. The idea that they could be exposed to a vaccine-preventable disease while they are enduring treatment is troubling.
You might be thinking, "No worries, because those kids are protected by herd immunity." Well, so many parents are foregoing vaccines now, quite often in progressive communities like the ones in which Jack and Clio live, that herd immunity is threatened. In California, where I live, there is a database of vaccine rates listed by school. There are pockets where the vaccine rates are dipping below 50 percent. For herd immunity to be effective, vaccination rates need to be at least in the ballpark of 80 percent.
There seems to be two main types of parents who are skipping routine immunization for their healthy children: the ultra-crunchy and the ultra-conservative (plus a third group that I'll address later). The two camps of "ultras" might not seem to have a lot in common, but they're buying their doomsday rations from the same catalog, if you catch my drift. Both groups often have intense distrust of modern medicine and the government. (And not for nothing, as it often feels like the United States government is actively searching for ways to intensify the paranoia of its citizens. I mean, WTH with that NSA stuff?)
However, while there is nothing more "natural" than large numbers of children dying in a Malthusian cesspool of unchecked contagious disease, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that we should avoid that. This shouldn't be a controversial opinion. The increasing success of the anti-vaccine movement is endangering not only immune-compromised children such as Jack and Clio, but also infants too young to be vaccinated. To say nothing of the unvaccinated children themselves.