Should Antivaxers Be Criminally Charged? Trying To See Both Sides Of The Vaccination Issue

Here’s my bias: I vaccinated both my kids. I believe in science. I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories because I inherently believe people are good.

So when I read an article in Slate this week with the very sensational headline suggesting that those who don’t vaccinate their kids should be criminally charged, I nodded. To me, it makes sense. Vaccinations are a public safety issue, and while there are personal choices that need to be made, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

What if a mother decided not to vaccinate her daughter for measles, based on rumors that the vaccine causes autism, and her daughter gets the disease at the age of 4 and passes it to a 1-year-old, who is too young for the vaccine, at her day care center. And what if that baby dies?

“One can make a legitimate, state-sanctioned choice not to vaccinate,” the bioethicist Arthur L. Caplan and his co-authors write, “but that does not protect the person making that choice against the consequences of that choice for others.” Since epidemiologists today can reliably determine the source of a viral infection, the authors argue, a parent who decides not to vaccinate his kid and thus endangers another child is clearly at fault and could be charged with criminally negligent homicide or sued for damages.

[From Endangering the Herd: The case for suing parents who don't vaccinate their kids—or criminally charging them on Slate]

It’s why we have strict laws against smoking. Smoking is legal, but the places you can do it are ever diminishing because we understand that it is as much a public safety issue from second-hand smoke as it is a personal choice to smoke.

I think vaccinations are along that same line—the safety of society is more important than what Jenny McCarthy believes.

When I tweeted out the link to the article, it received immediate response—both positive and negative. So in an attempt to be open-minded, I decided to try and see both sides of the vaccination issue.

Let’s look at the reasonable arguments and see if there can’t be a middle ground:

  • Trying To See The Other SIde 1 of 9
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    I canvassed the antivax crowd to give me their real and legitimate arguments as to why they shouldn't be forced to vaccinate their kids. Some make sense, some can be dismissed. In the end, I tried to walk a mile in someone else's shoes to see if I came to a different conclusion on the topic.

    Image via iStockPhoto

  • My Body. My Rules. 2 of 9
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    You could compare this argument with Roe vs. Wade. If you're pro-choice then you believe it is an individual's right to determine what happens with their own body. This one resonates with me a bit. The thought of a government mandating that needles be placed in the arms of your kids can be sensationally frightening to some, and I get that. I believe in personal choice and freedom.

    Image via iStockPhoto

  • My Kid. My Rules. 3 of 9
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    Yes, you are the parent and you need to have the right to determine the path your child and family takes, but if it is putting your child or society in danger, shouldn't that path be altered? A set of parents in France chose to raise their child as a vegan and faced imprisonment when she died of "neglect and food deprivation." You may think you know what's right—but do you? Really? It's a question that's worth asking when it comes to our parenting decisions.

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  • Flu Vaccines 4 of 9
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    Here's something that I've been wrestling with as I write this piece. While I fully believe in vaccination, I rarely get a flu vaccine in the fall/winter. Why is that? In my head, I say it's because, "I don't like needles," and, "I don't get that sick so I don't need it." But all the arguments that I make for MMR vaccination becoming mandatory, they come in to play here.

    If I am not vaccinated against influenza, and I get sick and pass it to the elderly or infants, am I not responsible for their illness? I am not practicing what I preach and this is very irresponsible. So am I anti-vax after all?

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  • Allergies 5 of 9
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    This one is legitimate and, unfortunately, you won't find it out until it's too late. Just as we have procedures for people to opt out of medical practices because of religious beliefs (think Jehovah Witnesses and blood transfusions), there should be a way for people to opt out if their health is at risk. 

    My bias stands on this one. While allergy accommodations should be made, they need to be legitimate. 17 states have Personal Belief Exemptions on the books, and that's too much of a loophole. It needs to be for health reasons.

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  • Corporate Greed 6 of 9
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    HPV comes to mind for this one.  Merck was famously lobbied Gardasil to the government to have this vaccine mandated despite the lead researcher admitting the benefits of the vaccine last only five years, and regular pap smears are just as effective in preventing/detecting cervical cancer.

    The mandating of vaccines needs to be on a case by case, vaccine by vaccine basis. MMR makes sense, perhaps HPV should be suggested or recommended for certain age/risk groups, but not mandated. We cannot always deal in absolutes, there needs to be flexibility in some of the policies.

    Image via iStockPhoto

  • Vaccine Safety 7 of 9
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    People complain that vaccines aren't safe. Jenny McCarthy leads the charge on this one, followed closely by Michelle Bachmann. Autism and mental retardation are not caused by vaccines. In fact, as time goes on, science improves. Vaccines are safer, better, and more effective all the time. Despite this increase in safety, there is an increase in fear from parents. It simple doesn't make sense.

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  • Government Control 8 of 9
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    I don't believe airplane contrails are chem trails. While I find some of the 9/11 facts suspicious, I don't think the government did it. While I find it disturbing that the NSA can snoop through a lot of our web activity, I honestly believe they do it to the "bad" people. While I don't like security and police cameras on every street corner, if you're not doing something bad, what's the big deal? While I am not a fan of having to take my shoes and belt off to enter a plane, I do it for the assumed safety of my neighbours.

    Government is not perfect. It is corrupt, and mismanages finances. We know this to be true. So is it possible vaccinations are just a payback to the biomeds? We've seen it in the defence industry. While I concede that the procedure of choosing which companies get government contracts may not be the most ethical practice, I stand by the notion that the vaccine itself is clean and it's not being used for governmental mind control.

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  • Verdict 9 of 9
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    The truth is, vaccines work and the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

    I still believe in vaccination, but I can very much understand how some people can spin it into government overstepping its bounds on personal choice.

    There needs to be very strict oversight to make sure these vaccinations are as safe as our drinking water.

    There needs to be legitimate opportunity for the small percentage of people with allergies to view the ingredients, to be screened, and be allowed to opt out of vaccination.

    As big-brother-dictator-police-state as it sounds, vaccinations need to be mandated for the safety of all of us. With vaccination rates as low as 63% in some states, we are falling far below the 92-94% rate we need for the "herd" to be immune from measels. We need to vaccinate our school aged kids for the safety of our babies. I know it's a hard pill to swallow, but in this case it's not about you, it's about everyone else.

    Should anti-vaxers be criminally charged? Well, if the circumstances dictate that your negligence lead to the injury of another, then yes. When you're dealing with belief exemptions, the line gets fuzzy and blurred. The law is clear that when negligence causes harm to another, there must be a penalty.

    Honestly? This whole thing wouldn't be an issue if those who were supposed to get vaccines did so of their own free will without fear or conspiracy clouding their minds. The herd would be protected and those with legitimate concerns would be more safe as well. Instead, with many buying into myths, we have a decrease in vaccination rates, an increase in preventable disease, and a necessity to mandate that people buy in to conventional wisdom and common sense.

    Also, I need to start getting my flu shot each year.

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