The issues with not vaccinating

If we mull over the issue of whether or not parents should be able to decide against vaccinating their children, we logically touch on two disparate questions. The first: are vaccines the safest protection against fatal diseases that typically develop during childhood? And the other: should the agency of parents be protected, or should proven medical practices like vaccinations take priority over the subjective medical beliefs and choices of parents?

Focusing on the first issue, history tells us that vaccines have been effective in obviating diseases that for many centuries were the greatest sources of child mortality. Before the development of vaccines, diseases like polio, measles, smallpox, mumps, diphtheria and a slew of others were insoluble; many outbreaks left swathes of children and young people dead. Today, in a society marked by sophisticated medical practices that include surefire vaccinations, mortality rates (as they depend on the frequency of disease-outbreaks) have substantially declined. Without a doubt, this decline is attributable to the advent and broad adoption of vaccines by the medical community.

Yet, in spite of the irrefutable medical benefits of vaccines, parents should reserve the right to make important decisions for their children—especially medical ones—and I’m convinced that such private authority should be respected. If we allow the state (as influenced by the medical establishment) to become too deeply involved in the private affairs of families, we as citizens ultimately run the risk of setting precedents in which the state can get involved in all sorts of matters that are private in nature.

Of course, I must concede, this line of reasoning won’t help to prevent the deaths that are more likely to occur because parents have misguidedly decided to eschew vaccinations for their children. But, if these deaths do occur, they’ll probably happen because parents decided to act on baseless, pseudo-scientific information regarding the dangers of vaccines.

Nevertheless, a national movement led by parents has taken root and gained steam. These parents refute the deep-seated notion that vaccines are effective and safe, vowing to refrain from allowing their children to be vaccinated, all while asserting that they are acting in good faith. On what basis have these ardent parents taken up such a hard-line stance?

In 1998, a British gastroenterologist named Andrew Wakefield and several colleagues published a paper in which they hypothesized a direct connection between the use of the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine and the onset of autism. This study came under widespread scrutiny and doubt about the efficacy and safety of vaccines. While Wakefield and his colleagues were forced to retract their paper after the vaccine-autism connection was found to be indeterminable and fraudulently attained, the consequences of Wakefield’s paper persists.

As long as misguided parents refrain from vaccination as a form of childcare, preventable diseases will continue to afflict children. I believe that vaccines are viable and keep children healthy in ways that generations of the nineteenth and early-twentieth century never had the chance of enjoying.

However, I also believe that if parents wish to keep their children unvaccinated, such a choice should be respected. In the end, the parents that make such a choice will have to live with it if their children exhibit symptoms of measles, mumps or diphtheria.

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