Shame and Shun Anti-Vaccine Parents

It's sad that it's come to this


Evil Vaccine

That's the headline for my op-ed over at the New York Daily News today. My colleague J.D. Tuccille very kindly mentioned and linked to this op-ed in his insightful post, "Keep Vaccine Choice—Long as Families Pay Their Own Way." Below are some excerpts that lay out more of my argument:

Vaccination is arguably the greatest public health triumph of the past century.

The University of Pittsburgh's Project Tycho database quantifies the prevalence of infectious disease since 1888 in the United States. The data suggest that vaccinations since 1924 prevented more than 103 million cases of polio, measles, rubella, mumps, hepatitis A, diphtheria and pertussis.

Researchers estimate that vaccination saved between 3 million and 4 million lives.

Now this dazzling success over disease, disability and early death is in danger of being undermined. Bamboozled by misinformation spread by anti-vaccine hucksters, the number of parents who are refusing to get their kids immunized is growing. The predictable result is the resurgence of highly communicable diseases.

It is long past time to aggressively counteract this threat to public health — not by resorting to government mandates and political arguments, but more importantly, through a concerted campaign of person-to-person shaming and shunning.

In speaking to friends, co-workers and neighbors, we must upset the notion that choosing not to vaccinate your child is just a personal choice. I say this not as a progressive or a liberal but as a proud libertarian — a libertarian who understands that with freedom comes responsibility. …

So how to turn the tide? People who refuse to get themselves and their kids vaccinated should be treated as deadbeats by their neighbors. They should feel the consequences of their decision.

Day-care centers should make it a policy to refuse to accept unvaccinated children. Parents arranging play dates should make a point of asking if the other kids are fully up on their inoculations. If not, they should explain to the parents of the unvaccinated children that their kids will have to go play elsewhere.

When choosing a school, parents ought to make it clear to administrators that they expect them to make sure that other students are immunized. NYU legal scholar Richard Epstein makes the point that private schools regularly send unvaccinated kids home; all public schools should have the same policy.

If parent-to-parent engagement fails to turn the tide, government might step in. In the 1905 case of Jacobson vs. Massachusetts, the Supreme Court ruled that Cambridge, Mass., could fine Henning Jacobson $5 for refusing smallpox vaccination.

Perhaps such fines — say, $250 — could today be levied against parents who refuse to get their children vaccinated.

I would prefer to live in a world where rational people take careful account of the evidence and dispassionately weigh the risks and benefits of vaccination to themselves, their families, and their neighbors. I am confident that if we did live in such a paradise of reason nearly eveyone who medically could be vaccinated would be vaccinated. Instead we evidently live in a world where politicized science is used to signal to other members of your tribe that you are on their side. Sometimes I despair that it's confirmation bias all the way down.