Friday, March 18, 2011

The Moms Who Vax Manifesto

In a San Diego pediatrician’s office in 2008, Megan Campbell waited with her ten-month-old son in the waiting room with an unvaccinated seven-year-old boy and his parents. She didn’t know he wasn’t vaccinated. She also didn’t know he had measles. Within days, her ten-month-old was in the hospital, fighting for his life, infected with the measles the unvaccinated child had brought back with him after a trip to Switzerland. The 2008 San Diego measles outbreak was triggered by a pocket of parents who believed the MMR vaccine was worse than the disease it prevents. Eleven people were infected, and forty-eight children too young to be vaccinated had to be quarantined. Megan Campbell’s son, thankfully, recovered, but barely. I wish this were an isolated incident. Measles is in Minnesota.
With news that six area children, including infants, were diagnosed with measles in Hennepin County, several of them unvaccinated because of parental fears, it has become clear that despite heroic efforts, the medical and public health establishment has failed to counteract claims of vaccine danger that have about as much veracity as Sasquatch sightings. It is the very success of the public health system in nearly eradicating what were once terrifying childhood diseases that makes its job so difficult now.
It’s time for the gloves to come off, and for the medical community, the public health authorities, legislators, and—perhaps most important—the overwhelming majority of parents, like me, who choose to vaccinate their children to stop being Minnesota Nice. Despite the fact that science had tried and failed to find any link between vaccines and autism, the percentage of unvaccinated Minnesota children continues to rise. The miniscule amounts of aluminum in vaccines, which some parents cite as a reason for not vaccinating their children, is a fraction of the amount of aluminum we ingest in self-rising flour. A breast-fed infant ingests seven times more aluminum in the first six months of breastfeeding than is present in the entire recommended course of childhood vaccines.
But this isn’t about science. If it were, nearly everyone would be vaccinated. This is about fear, and truth rarely trumps fear. The decision not to vaccinate has been made too easy. Because the risk of debilitating, and potentially disabling, illness, and even death, seems, for many parents, not a compelling enough reason to vaccinate, it may be time to try other tactics. There is currently no real repercussion, no real trade-offs, besides this risk, for parents who choose not to vaccinate out of fear. I am proposing some.

Higher insurance premiums for the non-vaccinated

Institute higher health insurance premiums for those who choose not to vaccinate their children for “philosophical reasons.” Parents who choose not to vaccinate are overwhelmingly the middle to upper-middle class individuals most likely to have private insurance. Insurance companies know which of their clients vaccinate. Those who have inadvertently—or purposefully—missed a scheduled vaccine often receive a reminder from the insurance company in the mail. Insurance companies need to see unvaccinated children for what they are—higher-risk clients. Just like a diabetic refusing to take his or her medication, the risk of illness skyrockets when preventive health measures are deliberately not taken, resulting in higher costs for the insurer. A compromise between kicking parents who choose not to vaccinate off their policies and letting it go without consequence would be to institute higher premiums for these families. After all, the cost of a measles outbreak affects the bottom line of not just the insurance carrier associated with the unvaccinated carrier, but also the insurer of individuals too young to have received vaccinations who were infected by that unvaccinated child—like Megan Campbell’s ten-month-old son.

Make it easier for daycares and preschools to refuse admission to the unvaccinated

State law requires that parents produce a vaccination record before enrolling children in school or daycare. But it would be a mistake to take comfort in this law, because all one needs to do to free oneself from our obligation to vaccinate one’s children before they enter a child care setting is walk down to the local notary and sign the “conscientious objection” opt-out line. Right now, because unvaccinated parents have followed Minnesota statute 121A.15 by obtaining the notarization, they are in “compliance” with Minnesota state law and can’t be refused admission to a childcare facility. It’s time to allow these childcare facilities—day care and preschools—to protect their students by making vaccination 100% mandatory if they want to do so. Right now, many of us leave our children in school environments in which other children may or may not be vaccinated, and that is a risk many of us are not willing to take anymore, especially if we have an infant at home.

Institute Sincerity Testing in Minnesota

In New York State, parents who want to opt-out of vaccines for philosophical or religious reasons are required to do a little more leg-work than heading down to the notary. They must undergo sincerity testing before a religious waiver is granted (in New York state, many parents who are fearful of vaccines claim religious exemption). This testing determines that the parents’ claimed religious belief is genuinely religious in nature, rather than secular. These typically consist of questionnaires, affidavits, and occasionally more detailed questions. Instituting sincerity testing may cut down on the more casual non-vaccinators, who have been infected, themselves, by blogs, Jenny McCarthy, and the other usual suspects.

Remove the conscientious objection opt-out from Minnesota state law.

While unlikely to happen, removing this loophole in our immunization statute, 121A.15, would go a long way to ensuring that measles, pertussis, and polio outbreaks caused by unvaccinated children would return to the history books, where they belong.

Here's the deal. We breastfed, too. Some of us co-slept. We feed our kids organic foods. We use BPA-free bottles and we scrutinize labels for phthalates, EDTA, and parabens. But that's because the science is on our side in these crusades. Science is on the side of vaccines. And we're sick of standing on the sidelines, letting Jenny McCarthy speak for "Mommies." (Incidentally--you'll find no "mommies" here, only women who are also mothers. We like "moms.") It is partly our fault that the anti-vaxxers have taken over the dialogue. The majority of us who vax sat idly by, saying nothing, while this very vocal fringe group has wreaked havoc in our public health system, put their own kids, and others, at risk, and created controversy where none exists. In the meantime, children have died. And not just the ones whose parents made the decision on their behalf to skip vaccinations. Infants, like Megan Campbell's son, too young to be vaccinated, have gone through physical agony--their parents through psychological agony-- because of someone else's fear-based decision. Some of them have died. The thought of planning a funeral for an infant who died because someone else decided not to vaccinate their kid is part of what kindles the fire that powers this blog. So yeah, we're done being nice. It's on. 
. The time is now. Join us. And now, here is a cute photo of some vaccinated children....Enjoy!

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