Saturday, October 24, 2009

Spot the Difference: Drunk Driving and Vaccine Refusal

What could Paul Offit have done to bring all this about?

Offit once got an email from a Seattle man that read, "I will hang you by your neck until you are dead!" Other bracing messages include "You have blood on your hands" and "Your day of reckoning will come." A few years ago, a man on the phone ominously told Offit he knew where the doctor's two children went to school. At a meeting of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an anti-vaccine protester emerged from a crowd of people holding signs that featured Offit's face emblazoned with the word terrorist and grabbed the unsuspecting, 6-foot-tall physician by the jacket.

"I don't think he wanted to hurt me," Offit recalls. "He was just excited to be close to the personification of such evil." Still, whenever Offit gets a letter with an unfamiliar return address, he holds the envelope at arm's length before gingerly tearing it open. "I think about it," he admits. "Anthrax."

Abortion provider? Evolutionary biologist? On the board of a commission that said yes, we really did land on the moon or no, Bush wasn't behind 9/11?

No, Paul Offit is a pediatrician who invented a vaccine. But he's evil; Jim Carrey said so. When did Carrey buy a ticket to Tom Cruise-land? And why do these conspiracy theories make people behave the same way?

If you're not already scared:

In certain parts of the US, vaccination rates have dropped so low that occurrences of some children’s diseases are approaching pre-vaccine levels for the first time ever. And the number of people who choose not to vaccinate their children (so-called philosophical exemptions are available in about 20 states, including Pennsylvania, Texas, and much of the West) continues to rise. In states where such opting out is allowed, 2.6 percent of parents did so last year, up from 1 percent in 1991, according to the CDC. In some communities, like California’s affluent Marin County, just north of San Francisco, non-vaccination rates are approaching 6 percent (counterintuitively, higher rates of non-vaccination often correspond with higher levels of education and wealth).

That may not sound like much, but a recent study by the Los Angeles Times indicates that the impact can be devastating. The Times found that even though only about 2 percent of California’s kindergartners are unvaccinated (10,000 kids, or about twice the number as in 1997), they tend to be clustered, disproportionately increasing the risk of an outbreak of such largely eradicated diseases as measles, mumps, and pertussis (whooping cough). The clustering means almost 10 percent of elementary schools statewide may already be at risk.

Here's a talking point: if you run across one of these mental giants, ask them to clarify the moral difference between people who choose not to vaccinate their kids, and people who choose to drink and drive. In either case, your own kid probably won't get sick (or killed). You might also ask them explain exactly how is not vaccinating your kids different from poor parenting? Oh, it makes them cry? Guess what, so does the first day of school. Sorry, you're just a bad mom or dad. Wipe their tears and tell them it's for their own good, and stop avoiding difficult choices. This one's really not all that hard. I'm not speaking rhetorically: if you run into one of these people on-line or in person, ask them. Somebody has to.

So here's one way to score a point for reason: speak up to support vaccinations and your local healthcare providers. Your own health depends on it. For my part, I'll be getting the H1N1 vaccine next week!


Danielle said...


How've you been? Found your site a couple of months ago and it's been in my reader ever since.

Great post, as usual. Well researched and logically argued.

As a mom this vaccine refusal really confuses and infuriates me. My son just started pre-school, which is a Head Start program hosted by Pittsburgh Public Schools. I had to fill out a barrage of paperwork and submit a full vaccination history, which were required for admission into the program.

A month after the school year started, I was shocked to read that 7.5% of the student population across the district were sent home due to incomplete vaccination histories.

Perhaps some of this can be explained poor administrative practices in the district (I've had to submit paperwork multiple times myself), or because out-of-pocket costs (2003 US Dollars) for immunizations can be relatively high for uninsured families. But I now wonder what percentage of parents are simply ignoring rules for admission because of their belief system.

If you want or need your child to be educated by the public system you leave your beliefs at the door and get the vaccinations.

Michael Caton said...

I actually wonder if a lot of people refusing vaccination under the guise of belief aren't just trying to look fancy when in fact they just don't want to shell out the bucks.

More importantly, how the hell are you? Time for chatty-chat off-line.