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Mixing unvaccinated children with vaccinated children: Whose rights prevail?
Category: Antivaccination lunacy • Medicine
Posted on: August 27, 2008 9:00 AM, by Orac

Last night was a late night at work, and I didn't have time to apply my usual annoyingly long-winded analysis to a study that I found interesting and had intended to look at today. It'll keep. In the meantime, there are always the brief "link-and-comment" (or in my case "link-and-snark") posts. Also, there was an article a couple of days ago that I have been meaning to bring up since I saw it but somehow allowed myself to get distracted. With the impending resurgence of measles and other previously controlled or even vanquished infectious diseases, courtesy of Jenny McCarthy, Generation Rescue, and their supporters and enablers, the issue described in this story is going to become more and more contentious:

Karey Williams never thought a parenting decision would come between her and a good friend. The two had known one another for a decade, supported each other through infertility treatment and had their first babies around the same time. But when she told the friend that she had stopped vaccinating her daughter at age 1, the relationship abruptly ended.
"She said, 'Well then, your child can't come into my house,'" recalls Williams, 47, who lives in the Chicago area.

That's not the only time Williams has encountered conflict because of the decision she made for her daughter, now 7. "I've had people voice their opposition to me, that I'm ruining the herd immunity ... that my child would put their child at risk," she says.

The people voicing those sentiments are exactly right. Parents like Karey Williams are contributing to exactly that, and it is good to see that many parents actually understand this:

Jennifer Collado, 37, of Glen Rock, N.J., says members of her son's toddler play group were "stunned" when one mother mentioned that her child wasn't vaccinated. The group didn't kick them out though, and shortly after they moved out of state. But the group felt that information should have been mentioned upfront. "Someone pointed out to her that it was her choice to do that but that she was putting everyone's kids in jeopardy by not having her kids vaccinated," Collado says.

Many parents who choose not to vaccinate will argue that it is no one else's business but their own, that they're not hurting anyone. Poppycock. (I had intended to use another word, but I'm trying to clean up my language after a few recent lapses.) By their decision not to vaccinate, antivaccinationists make their child a potential nidus of infection for their community, something they either cannot understand or refuse to understand:

This is the part I'll never understand...if the parents who vaccinate their children have such confidence in the vaccines themselves, then an unvaccinated child could never harm their protected child. Which one is it? Do they believe that vaccines work with all kids 100% of the time or don't they?
Here's the simple answer: Vaccines are not 100% effective. Nothing in medicine is. They may be 99% effective, 95% effective, 90% effective, or even less. By medical standards, any intervention that's over 90% effective is a pretty darned good intervention, and most vaccines are at least pretty darned good, especially given how rare serious reactions are. But they are not 100% effective, and it is almost as foolish for parents who vaccinate their children to believe that vaccines will be 100% effective in protecting their children as it is for antivaccinationists to believe that vaccines do more harm than good. At the very least, it's naive. Also, there are children who for health reasons cannot be vaccinated and who thus rely on herd immunity. The larger the population of unvaccinated children, the weaker the herd immunity, and if the percentage of vaccinated children falls below a certain point herd immunity basically collapses. Indeed, one of the parents in the article doesn't seem to understand that:

Angela Corry, 33, of Shirley, N.Y., has faith that vaccinations are going to protect both of her girls, no matter who they encounter.
"I have no problem welcoming unvaccinated children into a play group, and I have no problem with them attending school," she says. "Simply put, my children are vaccinated, the risk is minimal. I may not agree with [other] parents' choices, but there's no reason to hold that against the child."

Actually, I would argue that it is the parent of the unvaccinated child who is responsible for any ostracism that child suffers due to their decision not to vaccinate. It is not incumbent on parents of vaccinated children to bend over backwards to accommodate non-vaccinators. Also, if herd immunity collapses, the risk will no longer be minimal, and, make no mistake about it, the antivaccine movement is a dagger aimed at the heart of herd immunity.

One thing that I find heartening this article is that the social norm is still to vaccinate and that most parents still support vaccination even in light of the contininuous antivaccine propaganda pumped out by Jenny McCarthy and her fellow travellers. Antivaccinationists may be tolerated in the abstract, but when the rubber hits the road and it's one's own children potentially at risk due to them suddenly that tolerance is severely strained:

But parents who don't know who's vaccinated and who isn't have their own concerns, highlighted by the measles outbreak in San Diego earlier this year that resulted when an unvaccinated 7-year-old boy traveling to Switzerland contracted measles. The virus spread to 11 other unvaccinated children at both his school and his pediatrician's office -- including a few babies who were too young to receive the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.
When news of the outbreak hit, Dr. Ari Brown says her office in Austin, Texas, received a spate of questions from worried mothers wondering if there were any nonvaccinating families in her practice, which there aren't. "Parents were outraged," she says.

"From the vaccinating parent perspective, it's a little infuriating because you don't know who these kids are," says Brown, a vaccine proponent and co-author of the book "Baby 411."

Yes, it is, hence the question being asked of parents whose children are going to play with other children. Naturally, antivaccinationists are outraged:

"Do I think it's inappropriate to put a mark on people and kick them out from being able to participate in society, yeah I think it's inappropriate -- it's inappropriate and it's dangerous," says Barbara Loe Fisher, cofounder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center, a group in Vienna, Va., that describes itself as "America's Vaccine Safety Watchdog" and opposes forced vaccinations.
Fisher, "Libertarian" that she is who so forcefully opposes "forced" vaccination or anything that "tells her what to do about her child's health" seems to think that she should be able to make her decision not to vaccinate and face zero consequences, that she shouldn't face societal displeasure at her decision. In other words, for all her piously hypocritical appeals to "freedom," she clearly thinks her rights trump everyone else's. But what about parents who do the right thing by having their children vaccinated and do not want to put their children at risk from children whose parents are less responsible? This has nothing to do with government telling Fisher what to do and everything with shared values of society, where a parent wants to know if she's putting her child at risk by letting that child play with another child. As part of assessing that risk it's perfectly reasonable to want to know the vaccination status of the playmate. True, that doesn't eliminate the risk of being exposed to disease thanks to the unvaccinated in various public areas, but children playing together often involve close contact with the typical spitty and snotty hands that children in their lack of concern for hygeine often have, a far more effective means of transmitting the various infectious diseases that we vaccinate against than any random encounter with a stranger in a public place.

Now don't get me wrong. I understand that health information is private and that no parent is required to reveal her child's vaccination status to another parent. However, the flip side of that is that it is not wrong for a parent to ask about the vaccination status of potential playmates for her child. With that in mind, I'll make three points.

First, society is always a balance between competing interests of personal freedom and the good of society as a whole. In the U.S. we tend to value individual freedom over society, which has for many issues (freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc.) served us very well indeed, although arguably not as well in others. Unfortunately, all too often advocates for "personal freedom" forget or don't care that the corollary of this balance is that one person's rights do not allow him or her to infringe on the rights of another. It's that whole "balance" thing, admittedly a cause of contention since the republic was founded. Given that schools and day care centers, with their large concentration of children in relatively small spaces, represent perfect incubators for children to pass viruses and bacteria between each other, it makes scientific, medical, public health, and legal sense to require full vaccination according to the currently recommended schedule before a child is permitted to enter school or day care, with the only exceptions being children who for medical reasons cannot be safely vaccinated. Indeed, the push for "religious" and "philosophical" exemptions undermines that protection and is intentionally being exploited by antivaccinationists to get their children into school to endanger the other children there.

Second, a parent has every right to ask about the vaccination status of potential playmates for her child. Parents of said potential playmate, whether they vaccinate or not, have every right to refuse to answer. However, the parent asking also has the right to judge for themselves whether they will accept that answer. Personally, I would not accept a refusal to answer and recommend to pro-vaccination parents out there that they refuse to accept a nonanswer as well.

Finally, and most importantly, what this conflict shows is that antivaccinationists seem to think they have some God-given right to inflict their pseudoscience on society as a whole. They don't want to vaccinate their child because of fears of autism or various other "complications" of vaccines based on fearmongering, pseudoscience, or religion? Fine, but there will be consequences, and I don't care if they don't like those consequences. Their choice based on fear is endangering the rest of society by making the resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases more likely. If a parent makes the choice not to vaccinate, that parent should not whine when parents of vaccinated children decide that they do not want to risk their children's health by letting them play with unvaccinated children.

After all, if antivaccinationists claim have the right not to vaccinate, they should not be disturbed if the parents of vaccinated children also claim the right to take action to protect their child from the risks introduced into society by antivaccinationists "exercising their rights."

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I am a parent of four boys. Parents should not have the right to not vaccinate their children. The only exemption that should be allowed would be for medical reasons. Religion is a terrible excuse for skipping vaccinations. Refusing to vaccinate because of definitively refuted "ideas" about vaccine problems is even worse.

I don't have the proper vocabulary to describe how vile and disgusting I find these people.

I agree! The only unvaccinated children should be those with compromised immune systems or other health problems that would make it dangerous for them to recieve it. No one should be exempt because they are afraid of dubious claims that [ex] "MMR vaccine causes Autism" [It most certainly DOES NOT!! As an individual with autism I trust the recent scientific discovery of the autism GENE!! It's genetic! No one's going to get autism from a vaccine. But not getting a vaccine could mean that they could die.]

Here is my blog with the details on the whole anti-vaccination BS. 

These particular conspiracy theorists actually make me mad because as the National Vaccination Information center said:

"“There are two reasons why people perpetuate a lie, even if they are not the original creators of it. Some do it out of ignorance or carelessness. Others do it deliberately with full knowledge. Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether facts are falsified deliberately or out of ignorance. Whatever the case, it is important to set the record straight when distortion of facts perpetuate a lie, especially when the lives of human beings are at stake.” (NVIC 2010)


Thanks! Will definitely check it out! ^_^


I have autism and get very angry and insulted by parents who refuse to have their children innoculated for fears of them getting autism! The implied message to me is "I'd rather my child DIE of a preventable disease than be like YOU!!"


Can you see how insulting that would be?

Great article. Bryan, too. Thanks for sharing this. Its truly amazing how people just don't u understand our refuse science and its application for the greater good.
Thank you! Fortunately it seems the anti-vaccination campaign is losing credibility with just about everyone (their spokesperson is a porn star with barely any education!). Hopefully soon it goes the same way as 9/11 truthers and Roswell alien whackjobs: you have to be a nut to begin with to believe it. :)
Its good to know someone else feels about jenny mc carthy the way I do. Just....ick!

Personally, I believe parents have the right to ask whether or not children that associate with their children are vaccinated.  I do not see a problem with that. 

As I have known more than one person who has lost a child because of reactions to vaccines, and I almost lost my mother in law due to a reaction to a flu vaccine, I do not believe vaccines should be mandatory.  It should be a matter of choice.  Either way, it is taking a chance, but we have to weigh one against the other.  Vaccines, for the most part, have helped to eradicate many diseases, so it is beneficial to be vaccinated, but it should still be optional--just as smoking is optional, or drinking is optional.....

Unfortunately vaccinations have to be a requirement, Research shows that given a choice people would choose not to and as a result occurrences spike and people suffer and die in large numbers. It would be nice to have a choice over anything but in this case the government has a responsibility to ensure everyone is vaccinated. Like in my blog post  "in the Soviet Union diphtheria was virtually eliminated but anti-vaccination myths caused the immunization to be suspended and from 1993-1997 more than 5,000 people died from the disease. The death rates dropped again after immunization was reestablished."

Unfortunately vaccinations must stay as a legal requirement to protect people against themselves until education on the subject is more widespread but even in that case keeping it a legal requirement ensures these diseases don't resurface and cause widespread suffering and death.


Also the the comparison to smoking or drinking are invalid. Can you really put smoking and drinking in the same category as vaccinating people against diseases? The reason smoking and drinking are choices is because they don't have any benefit all.  Smoking and drinking are recreational pleasures and a vaccination is a medical procedure that saves lives.

At the time of writing, I was mainly thinking of the newer vaccines, which have not been proven to be effective and safe to a certain standard.  (Such as the flu vaccine which just recently put my mother in law in the hospital)  I agree that the proven vaccines, such as those which have been proven effective and safe such as those for MMR should not be optional, as the benefits far outweigh the negative effects. (I should have made that clearer in my earlier post)


Smoking and drinking are slightly different.  While they should not be banned, there should be stricter rules for those who misuse alcohol, and end up hurting or killing others.  They should have no rights to drive for life after being caught drinking and driving. 


People with STD's who knowingly infect others should also have to pay a penalty. We already have stricter laws against smoking, but all of these behaviors still end up affecting society in a negative way. (higher health cares costs, higher insurance rates, etc)

I believe vaccinations should be mandatory and so should voting. If an unvaccinated child is hanging out with a child too young to be vaccinated, their life is immediately put in danger and the parent has little choice (especially in daycare, etc). I haven't gotten my daughter vaccinated since she finished her first year of shots, but that's because I literally can't afford all of those physician visits just for shots let alone the cost of shots themselves. I will get her caught up when I don't already have medical bills I owe. Shots should be required and fully covered even for uninsured children like mine.
Ava, check with your local health department. I was in a similar situation to you and was able to get all my kids' vaccinations for free over the last 10 years through them. Depending on what state you are in, they might even have a mobile unit that comes to your town.


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