Anti-vaccine parents are rather unimaginative.
It requires imagination to recognize that just because you haven’t seen a vaccine preventable illness, that illness still exists. It requires imagination to recognize that just because you’ve never seen anyone die of a vaccine preventable illness, that doesn’t mean they aren’t deadly.
I thought we might help out anti-vaccine parents by offering a thought experiment:
What if measles were head lice?
Every parent, except those of the very youngest children, is familiar with the scourge of head lice. Most of us have had the experience of a child who comes home from school or camp with an infestation. Though I’ve met many parents who dismiss the risks of measles, I haven’t yet met anyone who thinks an ongoing infestation of head lice is just fine.
Why is that?
- It can’t be because head lice are more dangerous than measles. Head lice aren’t dangerous at all, while measles sickens and kills.
- It can’t be because head lice are more contagious than measles. The transmission of head lice requires very close personal contact, while measles is transmitted through the air.
- It can’t be because head lice have more complications than measles. Head lice don’t have complications, while measles can lead to brain damage.
- It can’t be because head lice are more natural than measles. Both have been with us from time immemorial.
- It can’t be because the treatment for head lice is more natural than measles vaccine. Effective treatment for head lice usually involves harsh chemicals, while vaccination involves working in harmony with the body’s immune system.
There’s nothing wrong, unnatural or dangerous about head lice.
So, anti-vaccine parents, how would you feel if other parents made the following claims?
- I refuse to treat my child’s head lice because I don’t want to expose them to harsh chemicals.
- I refuse to treat my child’s head lice because head lice are natural.
- I refuse to treat my child’s head lice because I am philosophically opposed to killing lice.
- I refuse to treat my child’s head lice because ex-Playboy Playmate Jenny McCarthy told me that treating head lice causes autism.
- I refuse to treat my child’s head lice because I had lice when I was a kid and it didn’t hurt me.
- I refuse to treat my child’s head lice because I’m not concerned about whether all the other children around him or her get head lice, too.
- I refuse to treat my child’s head lice because freedom means that I am free to let my child pass head lice to all the other children he meets.
Anti-vax parents, would that be okay with you?
Would you be willing to let your own children (and probably yourself) get head lice repeatedly because other parents refused to treat their own children for head lice? Would you cheerfully pick the nits out of their hair, wash and dry their bedding, clothes, stuffed animals, etc. each time they got head lice? Would you cheerfully pick the nits out of your own hair repeatedly, since infestations would be very common, and you couldn’t avoid them? Or would you just accept the itching and the live lice crawling through your hair since they are natural?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you would be very, very upset if other children kept infecting your children with lice. I doubt you’d be setting up websites to advocate for the freedom to ignore lice, or creating message boards to support parents who have philosophical objections to treating lice.
What’s the big difference between measles and head lice?
Most anti-vax parents have never seen a case of measles, but nearly all have seen head lice. It’s just a matter of personal experience.
But you know what? Measles, like head lice, exists whether you’ve personally experienced a case or not.
And if you wouldn’t abide another parent sending her child to school with head lice and passing it on to your child, why should anyone else abide your decision to send your child to school unvaccinated, and therefore capable of transmitting measles?
They shouldn’t, should they?