Monday, February 16, 2015


Two small things about the vaccination controversy occurred to me today. Update:  No, three. Two-and-a-half.

There are other diseases and conditions claiming more lives than measles. But I think medically-trained folks have increased irritation because of the frustration of This should not be happening.  This was conquered territory. Victory was in our grasp. That's certainly my feeling, and it is likely to be greater for them.

Second, there is a qualitative difference in choosing to vaccinate - to do something to your child - rather than not doing something.  It is not merely that the child will feel some pain or will cry, or doesn't like it.  That might be a minor factor, but most parents are pretty used to doing things over a child's objection.  The merely quantitative evaluation, that there is 1/1,000 chance of something bad happening this way vs 1/100,000 chance the other way, leaves out the part of being the cause of something.  As in the ethics experiments where they ask people whether it would be okay to push one person in front of a train to save six others, being a participant changes the dynamic.

If your child is one of the ones who has some bad effect, there is the always going to be the idea I did this to her. When parents who are already worried about risks contemplate the action of needle going into skin or medicine going down throat, that unwillingness to take action that might turn bad may be part of what is going on behind the scenes.

Relatedly, either point 2A or point 3 - the moment of decision is where one's opinion, literally and figuratively comes to a point. It is the risk entering your child now. It is stark, it is either-or. For those who think of vaccines as something protective, this brings a sigh of relief.  Whew.  One less thing to worry about. But for wafflers, it's not so clear.


Donna B. said...

"Fear of doing" might apply to those parents who don't then take their children to a chicken pox party.

I think being "anti-vaccine" is more social signaling for most -- at least for the ones I've run into in the past 10 years or so.

Sam L. said...

Part of it is the lack of fear of childhood diseases, through lack of experience. So, ignorance.

dmoelling said...

We've never been reluctant about vaccines (partly because we are not organic food fetishests). But when my daughter was in high school, her pediatrician had her get various vaccines (Hepatitis etc.) because I often traveled to nasty places in my work. I have taken nearly every vaccine known to man, but it was interesting that my daughter's MD thought an extra layer of protection was prudent.

Ray Bradbury wrote a short story about a funeral for a dog that had to do with how people who didn't face frequent, premature illness and death handled it. This is similar to how a lack of exposure to childhood illness allows people to lose perspective.

RichardJohnson said...

Back in the day, I knew people who had taken the see the Guru in India trip. Some had contracted some serious diseases in India- not just run of the mill Delhi belly/turista/diarrhea.

I forget precisely what serious illnesses they had suffered in India, but from my experience in getting an array of shots for going to Latin America, my conclusion was that had they bothered to take the standard vaccinations for people going to Third World Countries, they would not have contracted those serious illnesses in India. I definitely recall thinking to myself- "I got vaccinated for that, and they got sick from that in India."

Prudent visitors to the Third World decide that good health constitutes the best social signalling.

Christopher B said...

I'd add a couple of thoughts.

Related to your first point, I don't think it's just frustration over the loss of a potential or actual victory. Since these are viruses the only real 'cure' is to avoid contracting them. Maybe that will change in the future but I'm sure some of the frustration is the fact that vaccination is the one thing medical people can do to alleviate suffering from these diseases.

I blame a certain amount of ignorance though I think it's misunderstanding brought about by the explosion of personally prophlactic vaccinations, specifically flu shots. People are under the mis-impression that vaccinations are *primarily* for the purpose of protecting the vaccinated child from the disease. So the assumption is that a parent should balance the risk of something bad happening from a vaccination against the risk of contracting the disease, further complicated by the fact that the contagiousness and seriousness of these disease has not been experienced in a generation or more. If people properly understood that you vaccinate your child to protect mine, and vice versa, I think the free rider problem would be lessened.

The Mad Soprano said...

Wasn't there that also that quack who came up with the supposed "link" between vaccines and autism?