Parents who do not vaccinate their children should go to jail (COMMENTARY)

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the U.S. eliminated all native cases of measles in the year 2000. New cases generally occurred only among unvaccinated foreigners. Today, however, because of ignorant "anti-vaxxers," the disease is staging a comeback.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the U.S. eliminated all native cases of measles in the year 2000. New cases generally occurred only among unvaccinated foreigners. Today, however, because of ignorant "anti-vaxxers," the disease is staging a comeback.

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(RNS) Anti-vaccine parents are turning their children into little walking time bombs. They ought to be charged for endangering their children and others.

  • Jack

    I share the author’s concern; this is a huge problem.

    But this is America and jailing people is a last resort, not a first resort, to irresponsible behavior.

    The scientific community needs to do a far better job communicating about the benefits of vaccinations. It also needs to deal respectfully with the fears that parents have. Simply to point out that such fears have no proven validity isn’t enough. People are emotional as well as rational beings and part of the solution is to deal with people’s concerns in a sensitive way. Talking at people rather than to people is not the way to go.

    And if scientists don’t have the right bedside manner, they need to find other people who do.

  • Larry

    The anti-vaxxers messed up Disneyland for everyone. I have zero sympathy for the self-important pestilence spreaders.

    The problem with respectful dialogue with anti-vaxxers is their view is a combination of irrational paranoia, willful ignorance and raging ego. If reason worked with such people, they would no longer exist.

    The scientific community can only handle a certain level of stupidity from the public. There comes a point where the most polite, simply demonstrated and well reasoned efforts are going to fall flat in the face of dogmatic idiocy. The fact that creationists still exist is a perfect example of this. Its amazing how people can dismiss a century of scientific efforts just because of gonzo personal beliefs.

    We are dealing with dangerous morons. Pure and simple. Even the most basic anti-vaccination argument falls short of anything remotely sane. As if the unfounded fears of autism compare with the possibility of painful suffering and death of their child and other people.

  • Jack

    One of the key points to make is that even if vaccinations increase the risk of autism — a charge which is devoid of scientific evidence — vaccinations are still worth it from a risk management perspective, because they wipe out far more deadly diseases. The other point to make is that any parent who doesn’t vaccinate their kids is relying for their kids’ health on a critical mass of other parents’ vaccinating their own kids.

    People really do need to be walked through this in order to see the problem with their stance. To attribute the worst motives to every person who is leery of vaccinations may be emotionally satisfying for some, but it won’t change hearts and minds. And in a democracy, the way we deal with otherwise decent people who take a dangerously wrong position is to do everything humanly possible to persuade them to change their minds — not by talking down to them, but by engaging in a thorough and frank discussion on how the risks associating with not vaccinating far outweigh those of vaccinating, even if we assume that the anti-vaccination people are correct that such risks exist.

  • Larry

    Something as important as public health is being held hostage to ridiculous personal beliefs. Polite discussion and making points is not getting through. Some people are just dangerously stupid.

    There really should be no “belief exemptions” at all to vaccination. Short of medical reasons, there is no sane excuse for avoiding vaccination.

  • Jack

    There is no serious effort to get through, because the case for vaccination is not being articulated properly. I have been able to convince the few individuals I’ve met who are against vaccinations to change their minds. None of them were stupid; they were simply not thinking things through because of their inherent distrust of elites. This is mostly a hard left or hard right sort of problem, but I try not to accuse people on either extreme of being stupid. Besides being incorrect, such a tactic that would just feed the paranoia.

  • Fourth Valley

    Sigh. This sort of article will just fuel the anti-vaccine people’s crazy oppression complex. They’ll just look at the title and claim it as evidence you’re trying to oppress them.

  • Jack

    Which is exactly my point, Fourth Valley…..

    And I don’t think they’re crazy….I think their position is crazy, but many otherwise sane people absolutely oppose vaccinations….just like many otherwise sane people oppose lots of other things that are good for us — like free markets, low taxes, making a moral distinction between free nations and ISIS terrorists, and good hygiene.

  • The Great God Pan

    The US isn’t going to start putting anti-vaxxers away any time soon. We often refuse to put parents in prison for actually killing their children through medical neglect (provided that the neglect stemmed from a “sincere religious belief), so the idea of locking up anti-vaxxers is a non-starter.

    The other option, education, is also a non-starter. The facts are readily available and easy to understand. Anti-vaxxers choose to embrace fantasy instead. Many (probably most) of them are proud, self-declared SAHMs (“Stay-At-Home Mommies”) with a lot of time on their hands and an emptiness in their souls stemming from the subliminal realization that the kids and the house and the husband with the good job still haven’t made them happy. They try to fill this hole by indulging in anti-vax hysteria, orthorexia, attachment parenting, holistic medicine and other obsessive practices with no basis in facts. They aren’t simply “misinformed.” There is something much more wrong with them than that, and it can’t be fixed by anyone but themselves.

    Ultimately this is what a free society leads to, particularly now that the internet has effectively leveled the factual playing field, enabling us all to choose from (and help spread) any variety of misinformation that suits our tastes. Being free means being free to be an idiot. As the great philosopher once put it, “I used to be disgusted and now I try to be amused.”

  • Glyndon Morris

    No, they should not be jailed. That is a nonstarter because many of them are part of the GOP base. Instead, the parents of the vaccinated kids who got measles anyway should sue the pants off the parents who refused to vaccinate their own kids. After a few courts have legally determined the liability issues, which seem perfectly clear, some of those so-called smart people might see things differently. If nothing else, it will get the deep pockets of the liability insurance companies involved.

  • Sister Geraldine Marie, OP, RN, PHN

    As you can read, I’m a registered nurse (45 years) and a public health nurse. Vaccinations are very important. I wish the measles vaccine was available when I was eight years old! I had measles (rubeola) for a full three weeks! I was a very ill child who had to sit in the dark or wear sunglasses so my eyes wouldn’t be damaged (they weren’t).
    Having written that, I have had, and recently, very bad reactions to the Zostavax vaccine (swollen, red arm for two weeks) and Pnemovax 2 (severe flulike symptoms for several days). I was not told to expect these severe reactions, either. I never had reactions to any of the vaccines given in childhood and so was profoundly surprised at the reactions just mentioned.
    I still recommend that children receive their vaccinations. I have seen a child die of pertussis (whooping cough). She was only 4 years old.

  • MarkE

    I agree, Larry. But don’t arrest them – sue them! Negligence and intentional harm. Careless disregard for human life. Hit these paranoid elites where it hurts-in their pocketbooks.

  • Jack

    Self-styled Dr. Pan fancies himself the head of the Department of Clinical Psychology at (fill in name of Ivy League university here), where he is a self-recognized leader in psychodynamic analysis of stay-at-home moms.

  • Jack

    Tell that to left-leaning Hollywood actors and actresses who are afflicted with the same anti-vaccination mentality.

  • Jack

    Sister Geraldine, I think this is what feeds the paranoia against vaccinations. The public health community does not level fully with people. It treats them like children. It fails to discuss the issue in a mature fashion. It doesn’t teach people about risk management… that everything in life has risks attached to it, including vaccinations, but that the answer isn’t to avoid them but to be an adult and compare the very small and relatively inconsequential vaccination risk to the real, concrete, and devastating risks associated with entire populations foregoing vaccinations.

  • Misheel

    Vaccinated kids getting measles — doesn’t that tell you something? If the vaccination worked as purported to, a disproportionate number of unvaccinated kids would get it. But unvaccinated kids were blamed when mostly vaccinated kids got the measles. Look at the facts before suggesting jail-time for parents. Do you really think you love the children more than their parents, and know better?

    Vaccines are undoubtedly a great thing, advancement in helping humans survive the diseases that wiped out and impaired us in the past. But assuming they are the cure-all and assuming those who don’t buy into it are criminals, is going too far. After all, diseases and vaccines are constantly changing in minute ways, as are the production mechanisms, consumption habits of vaccines, and media coverage of the information surrounding it. The certainty in people’s comments and opinions that they are right, alarms me and puts me on guard. We have been putting far too many heavy metals and other chemicals into various vaccines in an effort to weaken the strains in our vaccines with consequences that give mixed reports of effectiveness and increasing side effects. So it isn’t a black and white issue here.

  • Fran

    When God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Daniel 2:44) soon intervenes in man’s affairs and puts an end to all sickness and disease, even old age and death (Revelation 21:3,4), there will be no one on the planet saying “I am sick” (Isaiah 33:24), even with the common cold!

  • Fran

    Jesus even prophecied that “pestilences” would be one of the signs we are living in the last days of a wicked era (Luke 21:11), and we are seeing fulfillment of that now! We are getting closer to worldwide relief from disease, sickness and viruses, as well as all other problems we now face!!

  • Larry

    It means you have no grasp of the possibilities/probabilities involved.

    It means you are making ridiculous arguments because you have no factual support for your position. Your web link is garbage. There is no medical or scientific benefit from avoiding vaccination. I strongly urge you to find other sources to read on the subject.

    It means that there is a remote and very infinitesimal chance the vaccine doesn’t work. The fact that unvaccinated children are much much more likely to not only get the disease but suffer from its worst effects

    People who refuse to vaccinate their children are creating are voluntarily creating dangerous conditions for the public at large. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO RATIONAL PURPOSE TO VOLUNTARILY AVOIDING THEM.

    “Do you really think you love the children more than their parents, and know better?”

    Yes! Absolutely!

    Because it is not sane or loving to risk a child’s life over stupid irrational hysteria.

    The effects of failing to vaccinate are far more dangerous, damaging and widespread than any of the problems they may cause. Misheel which is the worse outcome, a highly improbably bad reaction from a vaccination or horrific suffering and possible death from not being vaccinated.

    It is black and white because the anti-vaccination side is not only dishonest, dangerously stupid, and willing to risk the health of others.

    “The certainty in people’s comments and opinions that they are right, alarms me and puts me on guard.”

    So you want to kill children from easily treatable illnesses because consensus scares you? I can’t even going to pretend you have a point of view which needs to be taken seriously here.

  • Jack

    Larry, obviously we agree on vaccinations and how horribly dangerous the anti-vaccination movement is. But you are assuming that every person who opposes vaccinations is a selfish, pig-headed person who can’t be convinced otherwise. That’s flatly false, because I have convinced a few people on this……

    The way to convince a person is respectfully — unless and until that person proves by their own attitude that they are completely close-minded and are hell-bent on winning others to their cause.

    I feel as strongly as you do, and believe the stakes are just as high as you do, which is exactly why I believe we have to use persuasion as much as we can. The last thing I want to see is more paranoia, or for people who now are not paranoid to become paranoid as a result of ham-handed tactics.

  • Larry

    Sorry I don’t have a compelling need to mollycoddle dangerously irrational people who feel an overwhelming urge to engage in self-denial and ridiculous arguments. [Must fight urge to make a about religious belief!!!]

    “But you are assuming that every person who opposes vaccinations is a selfish, pig-headed person who can’t be convinced otherwise. ”

    If it wasn’t true, there would be no anti-vaxxers left. They would have abandoned their nonsense a long time ago. They are not interested in facts or reasonable arguments. There is no sense in giving such stupidity even a modicum of respect.

    Better off being brutally honest. This is not an issue about choice or sincerely held beliefs. Its about putting lives at risk over stupidity. I don’t care about earning the respect of such people. I would rather address people who might be tempted to take such nonsense seriously. Those who don’t know any better. They can be swayed by rational arguments and facts.

  • IO9–I9Ck-t4N–/c_fit,fl_progressive,q_80,w_636/pkqhfpfqjmxrbe6t7ly1.png

    Roald Dahl-1988

    Measles: A Dangerous Illness

    Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.

    “Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.

    “I feel all sleepy,” she said.

    In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.

    The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her. That was twenty-four years ago in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her.

    On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunised against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.

    It is not yet generally accepted that measles can be a dangerous illness. Believe me, it is. In my opinion parents who now refuse to have their children immunised are putting the lives of those children at risk. In America, where measles immunisation is compulsory, measles like smallpox, has been virtually wiped out.

    Here in Britain, because so many parents refuse, either out of obstinacy or ignorance or fear, to allow their children to be immunised, we still have a hundred thousand cases of measles every year. Out of those, more than 10,000 will suffer side effects of one kind or another. At least 10,000 will develop ear or chest infections. About 20 will die.


    Every year around 20 children will die in Britain from measles.

    So what about the risks that your children will run from being immunised?

    They are almost non-existent. Listen to this. In a district of around 300,000 people, there will be only one child every 250 years who will develop serious side effects from measles immunisation! That is about a million to one chance. I should think there would be more chance of your child choking to death on a chocolate bar than of becoming seriously ill from a measles immunisation.

    So what on earth are you worrying about? It really is almost a crime to allow your child to go unimmunised.

    The ideal time to have it done is at 13 months, but it is never too late. All school-children who have not yet had a measles immunisation should beg their parents to arrange for them to have one as soon as possible.

    Incidentally, I dedicated two of my books to Olivia, the first was ‘James and the Giant Peach’. That was when she was still alive. The second was ‘The BFG’, dedicated to her memory after she had died from measles. You will see her name at the beginning of each of these books. And I know how happy she would be if only she could know that her death had helped to save a good deal of illness and death among other children.

  • Jack

    Of course we need “brutal” honesty, Larry. But the problem here — common to people on both the hard left and the hard right — is deep distrust of elites. Mass jailings will only feed the paranoia, when we need to break the paranoia.

    The medical and scientific communities have done an uneven job of walking people through the case for vaccinations. They need to do better….far better.

  • Larry

    The jailing part is a strawman position anyway. There has to be some kind of civil/criminal penalty for parents who want to voluntarily spread pestilence. Letting it go as “personal liberty” is irresponsible. I don’t care if they are paranoid as long as there is a price to pay for it. One that doesn’t involve posing public health risks.

    If you want to see a sane approach to dealing with these morons, see the letter below by Roald Dahl.

  • Thecla

    Take their kids away for child neglect, put the kids into foster care, and grind those parents through the social service system. Anti-vaxxing is a status symbol, like anti-GM food, alternative medicine, etc. Send the message to these cool parents that they’re in the same bag with the trailer trash who beat, abuse and neglect their kids. That should set them straight. Might even be edifying for them to get some immediate personal contact with how the other half lives.

  • Io9


    I was a cold war baby, and had the childhood diseases. I had measles *everywhere* including lesions under my finger and toe nails, my buttcrack and inside my mouth. My mom kept me in a dark room because of the risk of eye damage. When I had whooping cough, it turned into rheumatic fever, giving me both a heart condition and serious lung issues – I get a chest cold, it rolls into pneumonia because of the scarring in my lungs prevent them from clearing the mucus properly. I have no idea how much lifespan the heart damage has lost for me.

    Vaccinate your kids. If I had my way, it would be a chargeable offense not to get your kid vaccinated barring specifically and ONLY allergy issues.


    I had a cousin who was brain damaged by measles as a toddler in the early 1970s and died in her teens in the mid-1980s from an embolism I believe was related. People lately seem to think measles is like the chicken pox. It’s not.


    I’m a rubella baby. Massive congenital heart defect, for which I had surgery at the ripe old age of two. I can’t ever get life insurance now.

  • Jack

    No, Larry, the jailing part is not a “strawman position,” but a serious proposal which would pass if we didn’t live in a free society or were part of the Anglosphere which puts a particularly high premium on individual rights.

    So the challenge is how to operate within our free society to get the vaccination message out as strongly as possible.

    From a communications standpoint, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the most persuasive arguments are usually those which treat those we’re seeking to persuade with a modicum of respect.

    In the case of vaccinations, I find that the most persuasive argument goes something like this:

    “What you anti-vaccination folks are alleging is that vaccinations cause such things as autism. You allege, but so far, you have not proven. Even if we include studies you cite and assume they haven’t been refuted, the universe of studies together bear at best an inconclusive result.

    “On the other hand, if vaccination rates drop below a certain threshold, we are absolutely certain that ancient diseases will return, many of them terrible and some of them occasionally fatal.

    “So even if you guys are right, what we have is a risk management dilemma — the risk of vaccinating vs. the risk of not vaccinating.

    “But this dilemma pits the POSSIBILITY of vaccinations harming people against the CERTAINTY of harm happening to people if a critical mass refuses to vaccinate.

    “Based on that tradeoff — assuming there even is a tradeoff — are not vaccinations the better way?”

    Believe it or not, most people do not think things all the way through to that point….and it’s time we do a better job getting them to do so.

  • Larry

    I would love for someone to haul away Jenny McCarthy and Rob Schneider and throw them into a deep dungeon. Just on principle. Preferably not together because the result could be spawn of concentrated stupid.

  • Larry

    Nobody is taking jailing such moron parents seriously. Its hyperbole by the original author. Someone not looking for a ridiculous point to argue could see that.

    I would remove legal exemptions for vaccinations except for medical reasons. Most developed nations do not have such things. The risk of harm from vaccines are so infinitesimal and minor in effect compared to the risk of harm without them that it is not worth consideration.

    There is no sane point to be made about the religious belief or personal belief exceptions. I would consider failing to vaccinate absent medical cause, a form of child abuse akin to withholding necessary medical treatment.

    You again assume a level of rationality to the anti-vaxxer cause which does not exist. If they were capable of being swayed by facts and rational arguments, such a group would not exist presently.

  • Jack

    There is no question in my mind that those who are proposing that parents be jailed would genuinely want to see it happen. It is no thanks to them that it doesn’t happen. It is because, again, we live in a part of the world that takes the rights of the individual as seriously as it does.

    I’m glad we live in such a society and I believe we should accept the challenge it poses by making strong and winsome arguments in favor of vaccination — not arrogant bombast that convinces no one about anything.

  • Roxanne

    I didn’t know generalizations could be so detailed and specific lol, you have it all figured out don’t ya

  • L

    Go to Children of God for Life on why one should be VERY cautious about what is in vaccines.

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  • joe

    hi to all, i am 75 years old, i am not smart but i have seen it all, i am truly GOBSMACKED at the amount of people that are anti-vaxxers, i have seen 3 year old children die from whooping cough, i lost schoolmates that died from polio, my wife had measles at the age of 33 i did not know she was not vaccinated at that time, you should have seen her suffering for 3 weeks, she was lucky, i am unable to find the precise words for anti-vaxxers, all i can come up with is that you are all a bunch of fu***ng morons.yes morons.

  • joe

    hi lo9 i too have witnessed first hand what you went through, the trouble with anti-vaxxers is no matter how much evidence you throw in their faces they still scream AUTISM JENNY MACARTHY SHERRI TENNPENNY and not to forget the disgraced WAKEFIELD.i would like to see this current generation living in the 1950s they would be trampling over us to get vaccinated.

  • Teddy

    This is the data the drug industry do not want you to see. Here 2 centuries of UK, USA and Australian official death statistics show conclusively and scientifically modern medicine is not responsible for and played little part in substantially improved life expectancy and survival from disease in western economies.
    And here is the link

  • g

    “They pose a lethal threat to the most vulnerable: the immunocompromised, such as HIV or cancer patients”

    Should the HIV patients be similarly treated?