Refusing vaccination endangers everyone

 By Nick Riebel II Staff Writer  

You are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts. And even then, your own opinion isn’t necessarily as valid as someone else’s. Your “opinion” on whether or not parents should vaccinate their children against measles (and by extension, whether anyone should vaccinate against measles, and other serious maladies) is not as valid as doctors who know the scientific facts, and know what they are talking about because of their medical training.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul made headlines recently on the measles vaccine, which is needed to prevent the disease from spreading (as it is highly contagious). Chris Christie argued it should be the parents’ choice on whether to vaccinate their children. Rand Paul said that “I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines” (see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/02/03/how-the-vaccine-controversy-shows-the-limits-of-gop-libertarianism/ ). The truth is that this is not true, and the vaccine works.

I do not mean to dismiss conspiracy theories out of hand; after all, the greatest ones sometimes turn out to be true (just look at Nixon’s Watergate, suppression of left-wing activists, and other “Dirty Tricks”). And I understand that it is okay for parents to be concerned about their children’s health and safety. Yet, the scientific facts are that we all need to be vaccinated against this virus.

As the Washington Post article discusses, there are limits to freedom and even to libertarianism. Ultimately, even in the freest democracy, we have limited rights. We cannot murder each other, for example. We also cannot shout fire in a crowded theater. We do not have the freedom to drive tanks to work, or even to drive down the wrong side of a street. We recognize, for the most part, that for other people to enjoy their freedoms, we must limit some of ours.

The late Prime Minister of Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher, once claimed that “… there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families”. She said this at a time when Ayn Rand’s style of thinking was becoming increasingly prevalent, to the point where it is now essentially government policy: where self-interest is the norm and where it is moral to act to further yourself, rather than do anything for society, which is you and everyone else. Parents who fail to vaccinate their kids are not just exercising their “freedom” and failing as parents. They are endangering other people, their kids, and themselves. All of this, over an easily treatable virus that has been known to kill people, especially in less developed parts of the world where access to this vaccine is rarer.

Vaccines are amazing. Rather than defeating the virus when it affects you, it actually prevents you from getting the virus. That is the point: no more, no less. Exercising your “freedom” to exempt yourselves and your children from this or any other ailment is not liberating or sticking it somehow to our government or president, it is merely foolish. It is equivalent to living in a place known for earthquakes and building your house in such a way that will crush houses next to you if it falls. When your freedom can or does adversely affect others, it becomes negotiable.

Chris Christie and Rand Paul are almost certainly going to at least attempt a run for president. You would think, as the potentially next leader of the free world, that they would understand the basics of science and medicine, and encourage people not to let themselves and their children get sick and spread disease. I mean, Rand Paul is allegedly a doctor.

But Chris Christie should know even better, maybe even more so than Rand Paul. After all, he imprisoned nurse Kaci Hickox after she returned from helping save people from Ebola in west Africa. And he acted on absolutely no reason whatsoever, when there was no chance Ms. Hickox could infect anyone. He just wanted to be super sure, to look good in the polls (See: http://www.forbes.com/sites/dandiamond/2014/10/27/chris-christie-stuck-her-in-prison-so-ebola-nurse-says-shell-sue/ ).

This should not be surprising, though. The Republican Party puts anti-government paranoia above science all the time. This is why we can’t pass legislation to combat climate change (or global warming, because the Earth is increasing annually in temperature).

It just seems odd to me (especially considering millions of people must take them seriously) that they would make such inaccurate and potentially dangerous statements that hey or their advisors must know are unfounded and untrue. And why on Earth would they take medicinal advice from Michele Bachmann, who claimed in 2011 while running for president that the HPV vaccine caused mental retardation (see: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2011/sep/16/michele-bachmann/bachmann-hpv-vaccine-cause-mental-retardation/).

This sort of rhetoric may play well amongst the Tea Party, but to win the White House, Chris Christie and Rand Paul might need to convince moderates that they actually have what it takes to be president. These sorts of statements, I suspect, will not help.

And just to clarify: there are always at least two sides to a story. Sometimes, though, one is right, and the other is wrong. The measles vaccines work, and if someone disagrees, use real science, and prove it. Otherwise, don’t risk peoples’ lives, and convince other people to jeopardize the lives of their families, on nonsense.

 

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