Anti-vaxxers are willing to set your child on fire to keep their children warm


Anti-vaccine sentiment, in addition to being intellectually bankrupt, is remarkably immoral.

Anti-vaxxers have been known to declare:

I’m not going to set MY child on fire to keep YOUR child warm!

Consider what that statement means. The anti-vax parent who utters it does so on the assumption that vaccines work and that herd immunity is real. She recognizes that vaccines protect the most vulnerable among us, but refuses to contribute to that protection. She’s not willing to accept any risk to her children from vaccines in order to protect all children in the community.

Anti-vaxxers are free loaders.

But the statement isn’t just unethical; it’s completely backward. When an anti-vax parent refuses to vaccinate what she’s really saying is this:

I’m happy to keep MY child warm by setting YOUR child on fire.

She’s happy to accept the benefits of herd immunity for her children (the warmth), while letting the most vulnerable children get sick and die (the fire resulting from refusal to vaccinate). And if figuratively setting vulnerable children on fire isn’t enough to keep her child warm, she’ll get him or her vaccinated.

For example, earlier this year:

Demand for measles vaccines leapt 500 percent last month in Clark County, Washington—a hotbed for anti-vaccine sentiment that has now become the epicenter of a ferocious measles outbreak.

As of February 6, the county which sits just north of the border from Portland, Oregon—has tallied 50 confirmed cases and 11 suspected cases of measles since January 1. The case count is rising swiftly, with figures more than doubling in just the last two weeks. On January 18, the county declared a public health emergency due to the outbreak.

The ugly truth about anti-vaxxers is that they are free-loaders. They expose other people’s infants and immunocompromised children to injury and death. But when their own children face the very same risk of injury and death they were willing to countenance for other mothers’ children, they vaccinate.

It’s an example of the ethical conundrum known as the free rider problem.

The classic example is a conservation water ban. People in a town are told not to water their lawns in order to conserve water for drinking. Most people, understanding the importance of having enough water to drink, comply. However, there are always a few people who secretly violate the ban. They believe that they will be protected from a water shortage because everyone else is conserving, and — immoral as they are — they imagine they are entitled to keep their own lawns green.

Free riders are free loaders and they’re unethical.

How do we know? If everyone ignored the water ban the town would run out of water for people to drink and everyone would be harmed. So no matter how much you might want to water your lawn during a water ban, it is unethical to do so. It doesn’t matter that the harm is not immediate, or that no one can draw a direct line between your violation of ban and the lack of water. People who continue to water the lawn during a water ban are stealing an unfair share of a communal good and put the entire community at risk. You have to be remarkably entitled to imagine that you have a right to do that.

Similarly most people, understanding the importance herd immunity, vaccinate their children. In contrast anti-vaxxers assume that they will be protected from diseases like measles because everyone else is vaccinating, and — unethical as they are — they imagine they are entitled to keep their own children unvaccinated. But anti-vaxxers have been stealing an unfair share of a communal good (the high level of vaccine induced immunity) and, because of their immoral actions, the entire community is now facing a terrible risk.

In contrast to their delusions, no one is asking anti-vaxxers to set their own children on fire to keep other people’s children warm. We’re merely insisting that they stop lighting other people’s children on fire to keep their own children warm.