Parents’ Flawed Judgement Puts Society at Risk

The Governor of Washington State has declared a state of emergency resulting from an outbreak of 35 cases of measles. “Thirty of the cases involved people who have not had a measles immunization.” Most cases are children. Already two children left Washington State taking measles with them to Hawaii where they were quarantined.

When parents protect their children with a Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine, (MMR) the children are usually immune to these illnesses. Children who are not protected are more likely to suffer a red blotchy rash, coughing, a runny nose, inflamed eyes, a sore throat and fever. Among young children the condition can be fatal.

The mechanism of a vaccine stimulates the production of antibodies to provide immunity against one or several diseases. A vaccine is prepared from the causative agent of a disease, its products, or a synthetic substitute, treated to act as an antigen without inducing the disease.

Society depends on a high prevalence of vaccinations, especially among children, and for elders who are more susceptible to some infections. Commonly used vaccines can confer a degree of immunity against MMR (Mumps, Measles, Rubella), TDaP/Dtap (Tetanus, Pertussis, Diphtheria), Chickenpox, Flu, Shingles, Pneumococcal, Meningococcal, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Haemophilus influenzae type B. Less commonly needed vaccines can lessen the effects of infection such as Rabies or Rattlesnake venom.

Different vaccines are recommended by the CDC based on your age and health condition:

Age 19-21: Flu Tdap, MMR, Chickenpox, plus others your physician may recommend.

Age 65+: Flu, TDAP, Shingles, Chickenpox, Pneumococcal, plus others your physician may recommend.

Vaccines have developed into preventive treatments that are very effective. For example, since the introduction of the MMR vaccine, mumps cases have decreased by 99%. The incidence of pertussis (whooping cough) dropped from 197,371 cases in 1929 to 18,979 cases in 2017. Adjusting for population growth, the incidence dropped thirty-fold, i.e. a 97% drop. In the case of chickenpox, since the two-dose vaccine has been in use, outbreaks are less frequent and shorter in duration.

The science on vaccines has proven to be medically valid and settled. Society has come to rely on widespread vaccination to reduce cost, illness and death. If the degree of vaccination coverage is depleted by parents who choose to leave their child unprotected, it raises the probability that other children will be exposed to the disease carried by the unvaccinated children. In that respect, the choice to skip vaccination is usually a risky, irresponsible and selfish decision.

Some parents are biased against settled science (or gullible to alarmist theories) or suffer an exaggerated assessment of their own medical prowess or carry religious biases. In rare instances, they may have children for whom it is medically undesirable to undergo vaccination.

The decision to skip vaccination exposes neighbors and their children’s classmates to diseases, yet the pervasive herd immunity may protect their unvaccinated child. Regardless, parents should not be permitted to free-ride on herd immunity without cost to themselves. If a parent chose to skip vaccinations for their children, they should have to make arrangements for the child to avoid other children and teachers.