Rhett Krawitt developed leukemia at the age of two. Leukemia, Rhett explains, “is a cancer of the blood, and you can die from it.” Rhett, luckily, is in remission, but a new, unexpected threat is lurking: measles.
Rhett has the misfortune of living in California—more specifically, in Marin County, where there is a high rate of something called a personal belief exemption, where parents can forgo vaccinations for their children on the basis of their, well, personal beliefs.
Rhett cannot be vaccinated because he has a weakened immune system due to his cancer and chemotherapy. His father, Carl, has been pleading with the parents of Marin County to get their children vaccinated in order to protect people like Rhett, who cannot be vaccinated due to a serious medical reason.
Marin County’s residents are not the sole exceptions in this personal exemption battle, and it is easy to see their reasoning: in their minds, vaccinations lead, or can lead, to autism. Think of it like this: some people are worried that vaccinations are like marijuana—a gateway to something worse, whether it is cocaine or autism.
The only problem is that the vaccination-autism link has been made, yes – but has disintegrated into a million pieces. The initial study that caused the panic that has persevered within the affluent walls of Marin County, was bupkis. It was a 1998 study in a once-renowned British medical journal called the Lancet. In February 2010, the Lancet retracted that study, noting that not only was the work flawed, but also, the lead author, Andrew Wakefield, deliberately hid data and lied about his financial stake in the study. The basis of the study was that there was a link between the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine, gastrointestinal disease, and autism. Ten of the twelve authors retracted their respective interpretations formally in 2004, while Wakefield may be stripped of his right to practice medicine.
However, some people still believe that there is a connection between the vaccine and autism, even while basic logic and common sense tell them that the science does not hold up – for example, people like Representative Rand Paul, who despite being a doctor, has a unusual take on vaccinations. He once stated, “I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” He did say that vaccines are a “good thing,” but, at the same time, said that parents “should have some input” as to whether or not their children are vaccinated.
To be fair, I am not a medical doctor. However, I know enough that I would get a new doctor if mine gave me medical advice on the basis of anecdotal evidence.
So, let’s get a new doctor. How about Dr. Ben Carson, another potential Republican Presidential candidate, as well as a world-renowned neurosurgeon? What does he have to say?
“When you have diseases that have demonstrably been shown to be curtailed or eradicated by immunization, why would you even think about not doing it? Certain vaccines should be required—vaccines that are against communicable diseases that have real consequences for society.” He then compared vaccines to texting and driving, saying that the latter is “a public safety issue, and so are these immunizations.” This is absolutely correct, and a point I will elaborate on in a little bit. In terms of what Carson said: texting and driving is a dangerous combination, so the government has regulated it and legislated it in an effort to save lives. The exact same rationale applies to these vaccinations.
That rationale is lost on Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, who said of vaccinations, “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. That’s the balance that the government has to decide. There has to be a balance, and it depends on what the vaccine is, what the disease type is, and all the rest … Not every vaccine is created equal, and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others.”
The thing that is unclear, though, is what there is to gain in coming out as anti-vaccination. It is really a no-man’s-land position to take: those who agree with you already do, and those who are against you will move away from you even further.
That is, until you consider the words of Rand Paul: choosing not to vaccinate your child is, according to him, “an issue of freedom.” Once you look at this debate through the context of that, everything becomes—well, not clearer, but more easily digestible. In the eyes of the modern day Republican Party, choosing to get the measles is a lifestyle choice.
If you want a theme, I’ll give you one: anti-science masquerading as issues of freedom. It is my right as an American to get the measles if I want to. It is my right as an American to have a truck that coughs carbon dioxide into the environment at insanely harmful levels. It is my right as an American to drink obscenely large sodas and die of diabetes at the age of 32, because I’m pretty sure that’s what we fought all those wars for.
As I’m sure you can guess, none of that is sustainable. Not the food, not the Earth, not the diseases. I look at the vaccination debate differently. To me, it is a personal issue between parents and their kids. And, to me, not getting your child vaccinated is a form of child neglect. It is not considered one, because such things like personal belief exemptions exist (although not for long, at least in California, if Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer get their way), but there is no way around it.
The definition of child neglect, according to the website Psychology Today, is “a type of maltreatment related to the failure to provide needed, age-appropriate care.”
That is the first sentence of the definition. Failing to give your child vaccinations—vaccinations that only serve to prevent from harmful diseases, and have no link at all to autism—fits right at home in that sentence. Look at the key word there: “age-appropriate.” Doctors recommend vaccines every few months, so that the patient is eligible for the vaccine for months at a time. Why? Because it is safe and effective.
Look at the second half of the definition now: “neglect is usually typified by an ongoing pattern of inadequate care and is readily observed by individuals in close contact with the child.” The words “ongoing” and “inadequate” really jump out at the reader. Vaccines can start from birth and continue into adulthood. I am not sure how much more ongoing anything can be.