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Who is in YOUR Herd? – Litigation and Vaccines, Part 2 of 2

Who is in YOUR Herd? – Litigation and Vaccines, Part 2 of 2

The concept of herd immunity is not a new one in immunology.  For those unfamiliar with the term, “herd immunity” essentially means that if an entire group is immune to a disease, then those who are not immune (e.g. the very young, the elderly, those with compromised immune systems) will still be protected from catching an illness because the “herd” around them cannot give them that illness.

Recently, a Slate article appeared that put forth the idea of holding parents who refuse to vaccinate their children liable if their child catches a disease and then infects other children.  As a conservative, I am loath to encourage more litigation in an already sue-happy society.  However, I also believe that your rights end where someone else’s begin.  Just because you do not vaccinate your own child should not protect you from liability, be it civil or criminal, if your child becomes Patient Zero in a preventable epidemic, in my opinion.

The big question is: who is in your “herd”?  Who are YOU around who cannot get vaccinated, or who is vulnerable to disease?  When I was pregnant with my baby, my own grandmother got a pertussis booster because she didn’t want to risk unknowingly passing whooping cough on to her great-grandchild.  I should also note that my grandmother is a retired RN and is very aware of what would happen if an unvaccinated baby should contract whooping cough.  I also got a pertussis booster while pregnant, on the advice of my OB.  The current recommendation is that pregnant women get boosters between 27 and 36 weeks, in order to give their baby the best chance of acquiring some immunity before birth, and protecting the mother after giving birth from giving whooping cough inadvertently to an infant.

Who else is in my own herd?  My daughter’s good friend, who at age 9, is a leukemia survivor.  Her immune system is now permanently changed after taking the chemotherapy that saved her life.  She cannot be vaccinated for several diseases.  If she is even exposed to chicken pox, her doctor will order her into the hospital for 30 days, in order to make sure that she does not get sick – and if she does, to have immediate treatment.  As medicine improves and immuno-compromised children continue to survive deadly illnesses like cancer, the herd needs to stay healthy in order to protect the weaker ones among us.

And if you think, well, some childhood diseases, like chicken pox, are important for children to catch, consider that some people don’t catch those “common” childhood diseases.  And once you are out of childhood, chicken pox can be deadly to adults.  Despite repeated exposure (including his brothers having the illness), my own father didn’t contract chicken pox until he was 33 years old (and he caught it from me and my siblings).  He was dangerously ill.  This happened before a varicella vaccine was available.  I’ll say it now – ANY adult who hasn’t had chicken pox should consult their doctor about being vaccinated.

However, there is a large industry built around the anti-vaccination movement.  At the fore of that movement has been Jenny McCarthy (who I have written about previously).  She has received a ton of press because of her view on vaccines.  Many anti-vax advocates like to cite Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, who has built quite a following around her anti-vaccination views.  Who is she?  Certainly, if she is a “respected” as a “knowledgeable” authority on vaccines, she should be an immunologist, right?  No.  She’s an osteopath.  And if you read the disclaimer on her own website, she makes it clear that she assumes ZERO legal responsibility if you follow her advice.  But you should buy her DVDs anyway, because she clearly has no financial incentive in getting people to believe that vaccines are bad… right?

Recently, there was an article that triumphantly proclaimed that the courts had declared that there is a link between the MMR vaccine and autism (the pet theory of completely discredited former doctor Andrew Wakefield).  Of course, it was an Italian court that declared that there was a link.  Remember, Italian courts can’t decide if Amanda Knox is guilty or innocent.  Italian courts sued scientists for not accurately predicting an earthquake.  Italian courts have also sued auto racing teams in the past because their race car driver died during a race.  Also, Italian courts are not like U.S. courts.  There is no double jeopardy rule.  So Italian courts can repeatedly sue and prosecute someone until they get a result that they like.  The judicial system should not be the arbiter of scientific fact.

The article also pointed out the existence of a vaccine injury fund run by the Department of Health and Human Services, and suggested that the existence of such a fund points to the danger of vaccines.  It failed to point out that this fund has existed since 1988.  Yes, there are people who have reacted adversely to vaccination in the past.  It’s terrible and tragic when that does happen.  But that is no reason to stop vaccinating – any more than you should stop driving because people can be injured or killed in car accidents.  We accept a certain amount of risk in life.  It is not a right to inflict risk upon others because of choices that you make.

It always amazes me that we in the First World so casually discard what the Third World is – literally – dying to have.  Whether you agree politically or in technology with Bill Gates, there is no denying that the Gates Foundation and their efforts to vaccinate children in Third World countries are saving lives.  And there is currently a malaria vaccine in development, which will lead to even more lives being saved.  How arrogant, how cruel, would we be to tell the Third World that they should continue to let children die simply because people who profit from a movement built on fear and junk science are too afraid to vaccinate?

The beauty of the conservative movement is that we allow for different schools of thought.  We do not demand conformity of thoughts and ideas as those on the left often do.  However, we also acknowledge that there is such a thing as the common good.  One of the common goods of the modern medical era is herd immunity.  If you are in a position to make choices about vaccination, give careful thought to who is in YOUR herd – and if you are willing to assume a legal and moral risk if a decision you make ends up harming someone else.

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