Earlier this week, Beth wrote a post discussing the dangers posed by Vaccine Truthers who spread false scientific information about the “harmful” effects of vaccines. While most reaction to the article was positive, several people voiced concerns about the issues of freedom of speech and religion that are involved in the vaccine debate.
Some have said that anti-vaccine advocates (like Jenny McCarthy, who was specifically referenced in Beth’s article) have a right to exercise free speech, whether their facts are correct or not.
Making Jenny McCarthy a host on The View was a terrible decision on ABC’s part, and she should not be allowed to even discuss the vaccine issue on air. Her “expert opinion” is extremely dangerous, as she will now be directly influencing millions of mothers across the country five days a week. If you think I’m exaggerating the harm this woman can do on a national platform, have a look at the Jenny McCarthy Body Count, a website which offers real-time tracking of the number of preventable illnesses and deaths that have occurred since Jenny McCarthy and others started spreading their anti-vaccine message to the public in 2007. (At the time this was written, the count was up to 118794 illnesses and 1171 deaths.)
McCarthy’s promotion of the anti-vaccine movement is harmful to the public, and should be no more protected under free speech than yelling “Fire!” in a movie theater. This isn’t a matter of suppressing McCarthy’s opinion (because if that were the case, I’d have tried to silence Joy Behar years ago), but rather trying to stop her from spreading scientific falsehoods that can ultimately endanger the lives of others.
In addition to believing that the anti-vaccine crowd should be protected under the umbrella of free speech, some involved in the vaccine debate also strongly advocate for opt-out clauses, which allow parents to forego vaccinating their children. In several states, parents can opt-out of vaccinating their child if there are medical issues that could endanger the child’s health, or due to personal reasons or religious beliefs.
Medical exemptions notwithstanding, parents who choose not to have their children vaccinated because they refuse to believe scientific evidence over anti-vaccine conspiracy theories should have the right to make such a decision, but should also not be allowed to have their children be a part of the public school system. Private schools should also be allowed the option to turn children away who have not been properly vaccinated due to the threat they pose to the health of others.
Arguing that vaccines should fall under religious freedom is absurd. There is no reason that a child should have to risk being exposed to a disease from a classmate simply because that classmate’s parents believe prayer is the better medicine.
I fully understand the potential slippery slope that could arise in regards to government making medical decisions for individuals. However, this issue has one important distinction: This is not a choice that only affects the individual. It has the potential to affect the lives of others, and allowing people to choose whether or not they vaccinate their child can put others in danger.
Those who believe in the power of alternative medicine have a right to pursue whichever forms of treatment (or lack thereof) they choose. Apple founder Steve Jobs famously chose to pursue alternative treatments to treat his pancreatic cancer, and he was well within his rights to do so (despite the fact that he later regretted not pursuing other forms of treatment). Jobs should have had every right to do so because this alternative treatment only physically affected him as an individual, and did not put others at risk of falling ill.
You have every right to your freedoms until they begin to infringe upon my own.
Vaccinations are responsible for reducing incidences of measles, mumps, rubella, Hepatitis B, meningitis, and other deadly illnesses by tremendous amounts. The number of reported polio cases reached as high as 20,000 in a single year before a vaccine was introduced. In 2012, there were only 187 reported cases of the disease. In the late 1980‘s, nearly 13,000 cases of mumps were reported in a single year. After the vaccine was produced, that number fell to 266 cases. Finally, one of the more horrifying statistics the CDC offers is that an estimated 2.7 million deaths would occur each year from the disease if measles vaccinations were to be stopped.
So please, truly educate yourself on the benefits of vaccination. You could literally be saving lives.