Measles? TB? What's Next?

Posted 7.30.19

SHAWVILLE, QC | Finding three cases of measles in this region in 2019 (barely half-over) has re-ignited the debate over making vaccinations mandatory. Measles was once conquered, easily avoided by childhood vaccinations. Yet it's back. So, too, is tuberculosis. Could polio's resurgence come next? These scourges of humanity were considered gone, and, given their seriousness, their partial return has prompted varieties of hysteria.

After so much costly research and world-wide mobilization to defeat these diseases, today's resurgence prompts many to look for villains -- somebody's to blame! -- and there are villains: families which refuse to vaccinate, thus opening the door, however modestly, for these diseases' return.

The most common impulse is to come down hard on those who are refusing inoculations and allowing, apparently, these diseases to re-gain a foothold. It would be tragic enough if these families' children were the only ones affected, and they are, as are the elderly and travellers whose immunity may have expired.

Anger is a simplistic response, although understandable -- especially from parents who do vaccinate their own kids. Few people will play with fire when it could scorch their own children, yet a minority do, and the majority is then threatened.

Rather than a sledge-hammer, what might force an up-tick in vaccinations would be to require immunization (medically certified) to enter school. Some even want negligent parents penalized -- fines, loss of family benefits or even public shaming. Uganda legalized imprisoning parents who refuse. Others want unprotected kids quarantined -- just like Trump's child detention centres for migrants?

In 2018, the world's measles cases topped 300,000 for the first time. Ebola is spreading in Africa (and further by travellers), partially due to distrust in vaccinations. So when we hear of antibiotic-resistant pathogens, more and more, vaccination seems an even more essential tool.

But draconian measures can do more harm than good. For example, making vaccinations mandatory for school means more people might opt to home-school or send their kids to religious or " charter" schools which do not have this requirement. This does no one any good, especially our future citizenry which will depend on a complex and modern education. An option might be to make exemptions legal, but more in-depth. Families would need the agreement of a physician-councillor, and after several meetings. Religious or " philosophical" exemptions, and self-reporting without evidence, would be unacceptable.

Financial penalties just make life more difficult for low-income families, contributing to unhappiness, delinquency and low social mobility. The idea is that forced compliance breeds resistance and feeds today's anti-establishment and anti-science impulses.

Why not more public awareness campaigns, more discussion of misconceptions and fake-news (that vaccines contain baby-parts, toxic chemicals, heavy metals, or cause autism or abnormalities, etc.), reminders to parents, and general emphasis on scientific evidence (and not speculative-conspiracy theories)? Our society's addiction to fear makes positive responses more difficult. But a heavy-handed approach is likely counter-productive, as it is in so many things.


Copyright © 2019 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles 7.30.19