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Anti-Vaxxers Dox a Child

One particularly vile and unethical way of shutting down opposition is to make public personal information about someone whose ideas oppose yours. Sometimes doxing comes with the presumption that others will then follow up by contacting and harassing that person. Often the defense on the part of the doxer is that the doxee’s information is already available online. However, giving that information to people who are ideologically opposed to someone makes that person a target, and thus doxxing becomes horrible and awful and you should never do it.

So why is it happening to a child? I guess the answer, if you don’t want to read any further, is that anti-vaxxers are narrowly hellbent on defeating anyone who champions vaccines that they don’t see a child as a child, a human, an actual person who should be off limits to harassment. Marco Arturo, whose adorable satirical video purporting to show all the evidence that vaccines cause autism (Spoiler: he reveals an empty folder), has become the target of Levi Quackenboss‘s doxing.*

I’m upset, my friends. And that’s really the motivation behind this post. However, because I don’t want to further the doxing and harassment, I won’t link to the blog post in mine.  But here you have a screenshot:

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In one particularly hypocritical point, “Levi Quackenboss” writes:

So who is Marco?  I’m not going to post his full name out of respect for him and his parents as well as their safety, but they’ve been a little sloppy about making trails to it so they should clean that up. The last names his parents use are not the name that he uses on social media.

Why is this hypocritical, you ask? You will notice that everyone who responds to “Levi Quackenboss” calls her she and her, not he or him–as you would expect with a man named Levi. Guess what. Levi Quackenboss is not the blogger’s real name! Oh shocking! (Or actually not at all.

Although, as a side note, I was irked that “Levi Quackenboss” used one of her pseudonyms to testify in front of a Colorado congressional hearing. Her testimony consisted of showing memes that Voices for Vaccines had made and making false and disparaging remarks about the organization and the Colorado VFV Parent Advisory Board member who was in attendance. She does seem to hide behind fake names to say horrible things.

A second aside, amazeball epidemiologist and awesome guy, Rene Najera points out this Picasso’s full name is Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. So yeah. Marco didn’t use his full name.

“Levi” concludes her doxing piece against a child with this bit a conspiracy paranoia:

One thing is obvious, though: Marco isn’t just some random unknown kid when his parents have connections with the Mexican government and Walgreens is on standby with a celebrity media company to sponsor his pro-vaccine video.

Yes, because children of lobbyists never make videos and don’t have opinions. And Walgreens and Ashton Kutcher are apparently in on the conspiracy–along with the Mexican government–to cover up the vaccine-autism connection championed by such savory characters as Andrew Wakefield. People who believe this are really the same sorts of people who believe that Tupac is still alive and that 9/11 was an inside job.

This entire affair brought to mind an experience I had with a viral blog post and doxing. In December 2013, my organization (Voices for Vaccines) published a piece by Amy Parker titled “Growing Up Unvaccinated.” I actually hadn’t realized it was going viral until our website crashed and I was unable to access my email. Like Marco’s simple and marvelous piece, Amy Parker’s struck a nerve both among pro- and anti-vaxxers.

And the anti-vaxxers immediately pounce in some of the most despicable and horrible ways possible. They began by taking to Google and discovered someone named Amy Parker Fiebekorn who worked at the CDC. They immediately decided that because Amy Parker is such an unusual name that this CDC Amy Parker, and not the one from the UK whose actual biography we gave, was the true author of “Growing Up Unvaccinated.” You know–because if we went to the trouble of tricking people by secretly publishing a piece by someone at the CDC, we wouldn’t bother changing her name. This myth persists to the day and will pop up if you Google “Growing Up Unvaccinated Fake.”

Others were not satisfied and decided that perhaps Amy Parker didn’t work at the CDC. So they tracked her down. They found her profile and her mother’s Facebook profile. Some sent PMs. They found Amy’s cell phone number, and some began texting her. They found a video where she discusses her struggles with mental health issues and posted it publicly, as if to shame her with the stigma of mental illness. In one forum, one woman (who, by the way, makes a living teaching online classes about the dangers of vaccines), discussed paying her a visit:

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Amy Parker (the real one) had to shut down her Facebook page and take down her business page (which included her phone number). To make matters worse, the doxing and harassment came as she welcomed a new baby into her family.

Doxing has real consequences, and an adult shouldn’t have to deal with those consequences, but a child really, really should not have to. The doxing of Marco Arturo is despicable and has to stop now.

All this because a child made a satirical video. Grow up, anti-vaxxers. If you disagree with him, discuss your disagreement. Don’t disparage and harass a child.

*ETA: The doxing included in the Quackenboss post included the names of his stepfather and his mother and some employment information regarding his stepfather. A screenshot of the stepfather’s Facebook page included the name of their hometown. This information not only makes it easy to harass Marco and his family, but collating together could incite that harassment. 

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No, MLK Jr Wasn’t Talking About Vaccines

The anti-vaccine movement has a history of couching their concerns callously and ridiculously as civil rights issues. Of course, purposely leaving a child unprotected against a potentially dangerous disease is not a civil right.

So I wasn’t surprised to see them co-opt Martin Luther King Jr. day for their own agenda.

 

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Immediately assuming he is talking about your pet cause does not count as thinking.

There were several other similar posts, including this one, from one prominent California activist, claiming that being required to vaccinate your child before enrolling them in school is the equivalent to being denied the right to vote and use public facilities because of the color of your skin:

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When I saw those posts, I wondered why they were not connecting MLK Jr. to any race issue at all, including their newest claims that a CDC Whistleblower has revealed that the MMR vaccine causes autism in black, male preschoolers. (Spoiler alert: he didn’t and it doesn’t.) Considering this accusation, you would think that when talking about their CDC Whistleblower hubbub they would invoke race and MLK on a day about race and MLK, right?

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Posted on MLK day, this literally says nothing about MLK or race or their main CDC Whistleblower thesis.

Faux-journalist Ben Swann, who works for the CBS affiliate in Atlanta, is coming out with a bombshell documentary (on his own website) about the CDC Whistleblower documents–the ones that claim that there is an increased risk of autism for black males who receive the MMR–and he says nothing about race at all. (Note: these assertions are bunk.)

So much for civil rights, huh?

I combed Facebook to see if others, who were working to promote Ben Swann’s report, but I couldn’t find mention of race at all. I found the Canary Party’s Ginger Taylor’s missive about why God is on their side and how Ben Swann is going to expose the Truth. The Thinking Moms’ Revolution was excited about exposing the CDC for something. Age of Autism discussed how bad the media is and how good Ben Swann is. But I couldn’t find anyone talking about the main Whistleblower hypothesis as it concerned race. And that was on the day many specifically think about race and civil rights.

It is likely just an oversight, but the anti-vaccine activists have been exploiting the idea of race, such as Robert F Kennedy Jr. did in this interview with Tavis Smiley. It’s not that they don’t know race exists. It’s just that they think their rights trump not only their children’s rights but also the struggle for actual civil rights and racial equality.

And let’s not forget the demographic we are discussing. Parents who refuse to protect their children through immunization are often wealthy, well-educated, and white. Despite all of their privilege, they think Martin Luther King, Jr. was talking about them and their supposed right to leave their children vulnerable to disease and to endanger their broader community. And that’s kind of awful.

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The Cancer Kids are Taking Over

I frequent Dr. Tenpenny’s Facebook page because it is amusing but also because it helps me understand the marketing being used to make parents afraid of vaccines. Because I keep tabs on Tenpenny, I’ve also taken note of the revolving websites she has attached herself to, from Vaxxter to All About Breast Health. That’s where I found TruthKings.

It sounded promising but also slightly frightening. We all know the spurious ways people like Tenpenny use the term truth, after all. But today I noticed a post about why it is okay to endanger the health of vulnerable children undergoing chemotherapy.

Of course, that’s not how my new favorite truthers framed it, though. They titled their post, “Your Child Having Cancer Doesn’t Mean My Child Should Be Forced Dangerous Vaccines.” The title alone is poppycock. Let’s review in bulleted points:

  • No one is forcing vaccines upon anyone. To force a vaccine would mean to hold a child down and physically inject it into a child. Instead, reasonable safeguards are put on schools, including the safeguard against infectious disease. If you don’t want to participate in helping schools be safe from infectious diseases, you bear the consequences.
  • Vaccines are not dangerous. Millions of vaccines are given every day. 95% of parents choose to fully vaccinate their children. If vaccines were dangerous, pretty much every child in this country would be worse off for being vaccinated. Instead, they are free of diphtheria, polio, Hib, measles, and so forth.
  • Of course it is your responsibility to take reasonable precautions to help other children. That’s why you can’t drive drunk or text while driving. In fact, the law books are filled with things you can’t do because it would endanger others. And Laura Bredesen, mother of a cancer patient exposed to measles, will tell you that leaving your child unvaccinated is a direct threat to the children around him/her who are cancer patients.

Why are these TruthKings taking on the ever threatening pediatric cancer patient? What did these cancer kids ever do to them?

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Don’t worry, cancer kids; you aren’t the only threat. It seems that fluoride, GMOs, education, and the Islamics are all taking over. Or at least the Islamics are.

Fear of the other is the most common cause of bigotry and prejudice. For a TruthKing, you are a threat if you are a Muslim or if you are receiving chemotherapy because your existence means that their freedom might be curtailed. Both cancer patients and Muslims are turned into the enemy by refusing to actually get to know anyone who fits those categories.

After all, Ben Bredesen can’t be your enemy once you get to know him because he’s a sweet kid. And he’s a child. How can a kid be an enemy, and on what planet to you refuse to protect a child?

And that’s just my reaction to the headline. In fact, the entire post is a deep conspiracy about how the government is using pediatric cancer patients to take away our freedom. And you and I are apparently part of the conspiracy:

The Government has pulled at the very fibers which inspire you, cause you to be passionate, make you laugh and make you enraged. They’ve convinced you that myself and my child are here on earth to do harm to your child. And they’ve done this as a way to recruit an army of mothers and fathers to take the helm and become soldiers in a way to fight against parental rights.

In this battle, of course, the rights of the parent trump the rights of the child. People who use terms like “truth” and “parental rights” believe that they own their children, that their decisions are paramount whether or not these decisions are wise. They give no consideration to how children have been historically used by those who believe they own them, children who have worked in sweatshops and have been physically abused. The history of children’s rights is expunged in favor of a new liberty for parent/owners of children.

Of course, you ask, the war metaphor is just a metaphor right? (Okay, maybe you didn’t ask that, but you should.) No. Not at all. Remember these are people who think we are on the brink of an Islamic takeover. Their fears are about something sadistic and nefarious:

When you take the bait by the Government to diminish these very basic human, parental rights, you allow the Government to play to your sadness and despair. They have you at your weakest moment, compromised in your soul. When you really consider what they are doing, using your sick child as bait for your impassioned plea to support the army who is going to go door to door and remove rights, you begin to see how disturbing and disingenuous it all really is.

Going door to door to remove your rights. Sounds frightening doesn’t it?

But again, nothing of the sort is happening or is going to happen. At worst, you might be required to homeschool your child, as is now the case in California. Ironically, of course, asking that you opt for homeschooling instead of government-funded schooling is really the opposite of the foot soldiers coming to your door to remove your rights. It is keeping children closer to the adults who have bought into the fear mongering of the anti-vaccine movement.

Of course someone like Tenpenny shares the heck out of TruthKings on her page. This fear-based marketing, stirring distrust in the government and asking people to cloister against some imaginary army. The purpose of this marketing scheme is to sell her own wares. But real people are being harmed with this marketing strategy, whether these people are Ben Bredesen or our Muslim friends and neighbors. It’s unconscionable that a grifter like Tenpenny make them into the enemies in order to turn a profit. She will never change, but we can make sure our friends and family do not fall prey to these cynical strategies.

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Why You Shouldn’t Shop for Medical Exemptions

Recently, filmmaker Leslie Manookian wrote a post for vaccine hesitant parents about how to pester physicians into giving them an inappropriate medical exemption. This interest in medical exemptions stems from the newly passed law in California that eliminates all non-medical exemptions. Parents who are now too scared to vaccinate their children are forced to make some tough choices. (Well, tough for them because of their misperceptions of the risks of diseases and vaccines.) They can either vaccinate their children or homeschool them.

Anyone following the anti-vaccine movement can understand how an otherwise reasonable but vaccine-hesitant parent feels about this choice. For them, the choice feels like deciding between certain death or certain economic doom. After creating the fears about vaccines, woopreneurs like filmmaker Leslie Manookian (and Bob Sears) have stepped in to capitalize on this fear by offering parents a way out of the vaccinate-or-homeschool conundrum. Thus Manookian’s “How to Claim a Medical Exemption in CA.”

Of course, the decision to shop for a medical exemption is unwise. To get a greater understanding about medical exemptions and how unwise they are, I asked two friends to weigh in. I talked to Dr. Anna Saporito, a family physician from New York, and Dorit Reiss, a professor of law in California.

Manookian claims:

More and more research is showing that individuals with a variety of conditions and genetic mutations are more susceptible to vaccine reactions.

These conditions and disabilities include already existing or a family history of previous vaccine reaction, eczema, food and environmental allergies, asthma, gut issues such as Crohn’s and IBS, autoimmune disease such as diabetes, lupus, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, ASIA, and others, chronic ear, sinus, strep or other infections, Lyme disease, PANDAS, POTS, learning disabilities, speech delay, ADD, ADHD, autism, seizures, bipolar, schizophrenia, thrombocytopenia, genetic variance, impaired methylation, detoxification impairment, and more.

Of course, most of us recognize this claim as fishing for an exemption. After all, can you imagine asking a doctor to forego vaccines for your child because he is prone to strep throat? (Why isn’t there a vaccine for that?) My supposition about this laundry list was right, according to Dr. Saporito, “There are actually very clear guidelines written by the ACIP and CDC outlining medical contraindications for vaccines.” You’ll notice that almost everything listed in Manookian’s litany is missing from the CDC’s guide to who cannot be vaccinated. In fact, many are actually listed on the CDC’s Commonly Misperceived as Contraindications list, including autoimmune diseases (such as diabetes, lupus, MS, etc.). Other items on her list are not included because learning disabilities and neurodevelopmental disorders are not contraindications to vaccines.

Manookian moves on to claim that parents can demand allergy and genetic testing before being vaccinated (with the assumption that something will pop and be used as reason for a medical exemption.) Again, Dr. Saporito notes that this approach is not warranted:

There is no evidence that genetic testing would provide any useful information in the prediction of vaccine reactions. Allergy testing might make sense, but not genetic testing. (If SCID [severe combined immunodeficiency] is suspected, that should be tested for, but usually that diagnosis is already known.) The American Association of Allergists and Immunologists have great guidelines about allergies and vaccines.

It is important to note that the American Association of Allergists and Immunologists’ document discusses how to test for allergies to vaccines after a vaccine is administered. It is not a standard of care to test children without a history of allergies for possible allergic reactions to vaccines they have never received.

Finally, I asked Dr. Saporito her stance on parents shopping for doctors who are more willing to provide medical exemptions for conditions that are not contraindications and whether or not family physicians are more likely to provide a spurious exemption:

The science is quite clear that vaccines are safe. I have vaccinated myself and my own child for this reason. I find it suspect that the doctors who offer this “service” of vaccine exemptions often do no take insurance. It seems there is more of a profit motive than a motive towards public and personal preventative healthcare, something I signed up for when I took my medical oath. In fact the AAFP [American Academy of Family Physicians] just this month came out against non-medical exemptions for vaccines.

From a medical perspective, the answers about medical exemptions to vaccines are as clear-cut as the case for vaccines themselves. However, I did want to find out about a legal perspective. What could happen, legally, to a parent or a doctor who presents a school district with a spurious medical exemption to vaccine requirements?

Dorit Reiss, who is becoming the foremost legal expert concerning vaccine issues, told me:

Manookian’s post is assuming someone can just pressure or get a doctor to give an exemption on false premises. First of all, I think doctors can and should consider reporting parents who are asking them to act dishonestly. The physician’s signature on a medical exemption should be based on true concerns/facts.

A parent getting a medical exemption based on things that don’t justify it doesn’t deserve the exemption.

But what about the doctors? What issues might they face if they become a mill for false medical exemptions?

The reality is that the doctor can probably get away with some of that. There is no mechanism in place for oversight now, and if doctor only gives a few, no one will look.

If a doctor is suddenly giving a lot of medical exemptions, there are a number of things that can happen. First, the Department of Health can try denying them as unjustified – which will probably be challenged in a court, and the department might lose. Second, the Department can bring a complaint with the medical board – and prove the problem. Third, the law can be changed to provide a penalty for abuse.

The doctor has to specify the conditions for exemptions. If a doctor is found to have lied, that could be a reason for disciplinary action.

Arguably, if a doctor provides an argument based on something that clearly shouldn’t be a contraindication that’s also reason for potential action. Most of the conditions Manookian lists aren’t caused by vaccines and are not contraindications. For example, a doctor choosing to help a parent not to protect a child with asthma from pertussis is arguably violating their responsibility.

The legal issues surrounding inappropriate medical exemptions for vaccine requirements, but there is enough gray area that parents should reconsider shopping for a family physician who will give them an exemption when none is warranted. Of course, the greatest disincentive to seeking an inappropriate medical exemption is the consequence of disease for a child left unprotected.

For a parent who has fallen prey to anti-vaccine scare tactics, skirting ethics and the law might seem a risk worth taking, but the real risk comes from the diseases that have historically sickened, maimed, and killed children.

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Vaccine Refusal and Responsibility to Other Children

A common belief about anti-vaxxers is that they think they are only responsible for their only children. This belief is perpetuated by anti-vaxxers themselves. In fact, while perusing the stats of this blog last night, I found a link to a Mothering.com forum discussing a previous post I’d written comparing clusters of vaccine refusal to clusters of people refusing to pick up litter at a ballpark. The Mothering folk didn’t like it:

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The “lame social contract kind of argument” doesn’t resonate with vaccine refusing parents in the same way that picking up garbage other people have thrown out doesn’t resonate with middle school students. It’s a sort of “If it’s not mine, why should I care” mentality that puts children who cannot be vaccinated at risk for the very worst complications of diseases that are preventable.

The first time I heard an anti-vaccine mother argue that she was not responsible for other people’s children, I thought perhaps I had encountered a particularly horrible person. I asked her if she would save someone else’s child in the street about to be hit by a car if it meant leaving her own child on the sidewalk for a moment. I was trying to prove to her that we all feel a compulsion to protect children, whether or not they are ours, but she refused to answer my question.

Since then, I have seen more often the argument that we are only responsible for our own children and therefore do not need to worry about vulnerable people in our communities. Anti-vaccine doctor Jack Wolfson gained a lot of publicity for this stance, telling a local news station:

It’s not my responsibility to inject my child with chemicals in order for [another child] to be supposedly healthy…I’m not going to sacrifice the well-being of my child. My child is pure. It’s not my responsibility to be protecting their child.

Long-winded blogger Megan Heimer also made this argument:

Although I sympathize with your situation, pray healing for your child, and wish your circumstances on no one, that does not give anyone the grounds to trump my parental rights. My obligation as a parent is to my children, not yours and I will always (always) put them first.

These are only the examples of those publicly expressing this sentiment. Privately, many parents feel that their children are perfect and that they do not need to sully them in order to protect sick children–especially when anti-vaxxers often blame vaccines for whatever illness comes along.

Even so, the question isn’t whether or not we have any obligation to protect other children. Even in Megan Heimer’s loquacious exhortation on why she shouldn’t have to vaccinate her children to protect a child undergoing chemotherapy, much of her mental gymnastics seems to be justifying an unjustifiable position. She spends a lot of time blaming vaccinated people for spreading disease and urging vulnerable children to stay out of public places. She doesn’t argue very much, though, that the other child matters less than her child.

Don’t get me wrong. Many anti-vaxxers do believe that their children matter more than other people’s children, such as one woman who interrupted Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez‘ testimony in California by shouting “That child is my child, and he is more important than your child!” Some believe that their pure children have a specialness that exceeds that of others. In fact, in her research into mothering practices and vaccine rejection, Dr. Jennifer Reich describes these mothers are particularly intense in their parenting methods:

As experts on their own children, women saw their efforts as superior to the generic recommendations made by medical professionals who did not know their children. Although many of these practices are not shown to affect vulnerability to infectious disease, mothers worked hard in time and resource-intensive ways to protect their children without vaccines.

The take home message from many of these anti-vaxxers is that they are doing the better job of parenting their children, and were others doing what they were doing, those children could be healthy, too. These beliefs help them conclude that they cannot be held responsible for the health of other children since the parents are using inferior practices to keep them healthy.

When we flip this belief over to see the stitching on the back, the fear that weaves it together becomes obvious. It’s not that feeding your child organic foods, breastfeeding, and buying MLM oils is superior. It’s that the alternative, in their eyes vaccinating their child–is particularly dangerous. Let’s look at again at Megan’s interminable post and what always lies beneath the surface:

I dare not sway opinion with an emotional story of my son, who was vaccinated with MMR, almost died, and was subjected to a 240% increased risk of developing autism. No, I won’t show the photo of his sick, emaciated body lying in my arms after we flew across the world to be with him.

Do you see it? It’s right there, just like it always is. Autism. Even though ridiculous numbers of studies have shown that vaccines do not cause autism, the fear of autism always (needlessly and offensively) lurks beneath the surface. Vaccine refusing parents do not want to sacrifice their children, rendering them autistic, in order to protect the life of someone else’s more vulnerable child. Even though such a sacrifice could never happen.

As I’m told Dr. Greg Poland once said, fear is more contagious than measles.

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You Do Not Own Your Children

Nothing irks me more than the anti-vaccine rally cry of “My Child, My Choice” or the insistence by parents of unvaccinated children that their decision to eschew preventative care is a parental right.

The moment the nurse hands your baby to you, you cannot help but examine every square centimeter of her. Those tiny fingernails, those puffy eyelids, those little ears–every piece of the baby needs a nibble or a nuzzle. The feelings of being forever tied to this little body and this young life or overwhelming.

But those feelings do not give you ownership rights over your child. As your child grows, it becomes obvious that you cannot make your child be or feel or live the way you choose. Your child’s life belongs to your child. Your child ultimately owns his own body and is growing into the responsibility of caring for himself. As your child grows, it is your responsibility to take care of him. You are not your child’s owner; you are his caretaker.

Yet, the anti-vaccine movement gets far in framing the vaccination as a freedom-of-choice and parent rights issue. Mothering magazine maven Jennifer Margulis argues:

Unlike in the United Arab Emirates, in America we believe parents are capable of making their own decisions about their children’s health. We believe in freedom of choice. This freedom of choice extends to when — and even whether— parents vaccinate their kids.

Her wording is clever. We aren’t those terrible un-American Arabs, we are American (cue John Philip Sousa). Either you believe in some sort of vague, repressive, Sharia law philosophy, or you are for freedom, America, and allowing parents to refuse vaccines.

What exactly is this choice that anti-vaccine activists think they have a right to? One conservative magazine published an article that claimed: “If parents think that getting measles is a lot better than acquiring a lifelong mental disorder, they should be able to make that choice, especially for diseases that aren’t generally deadly.”

In other words, if parents believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that vaccines cause autism and that autism is worse than measles, it is only American to give them to right to make medical decisions based on these falsehoods. The right to refuse vaccines for your child is the right to believe fear-mongering about autism, to believe that autism is the worst possible outcome while also believing that measles isn’t a big deal, to deny that globally, 17 people die from measles every hour every day. It is to think that those measles deaths happen to the other people far away and to choose to believe that the woman in Washington state who just lost her life to measles is part of some conspiracy.

Anti-vaccinationists assert that they have the God-given right to make medical decisions about and for their children, but basing these decisions on the worst possible misinformation casts doubt on whether or not they are capable of making such decisions.

In the end, however, their capabilities are irrelevant. No parent has complete and unfettered rights to making medical decisions for their children. Just ask the parents of Daniel Hauser, who were ordered by the court in 2009 to bring their son in for chemotherapy for his Hodgkins Lymphoma.

The Journal of Ethics summed up the issue of medical care and parental rights well:

Medical neglect statutes examine whether appropriate care was provided, not how it was provided. A parent who refuses care based on an objection to treatment, whatever the basis, is just as likely to have the state intervene to make medical decisions as a parent who is not physically able to provide care or not mentally capable of making decisions.

Anti-vaxxers love their children and their beliefs are sincere, but they don’t own them and they do not have complete, unobstructed say over their children.

But what of choice? Isn’t choice American, even if the choice is wrong? After all, many people choose to listen to Nickleback or cheer for the Packers. Isn’t it American to defend the wrong choices of others because we believe in freedom?

Unlike putting cheese on your head or listening to bad music, the choice to refuse immunization for your children has consequences for other people: people going through chemotherapy or people who have undergone organ transplants or people who are new and too young to be immunized. America might be about freedom, but we are also about responsibility. If Nickleback carried the potential to kill children with cancer, we would outlaw them forthwith.

Lastly, children have rights. Parental rights are equal to the rights of the child, not greater than them. Children have the right to be taken care of and to be protected against things which might harm them. For this reason, we mandate by law car seats, educational standards, and bicycle helmets for children. A parent’s belief system is never factored into the freedom to choose these mandates. If we hand over full ownership of a child to any parent, we might as well erase decades worth of work gaining rights for children.

I have no doubt that anti-vaccine parents want the best for their children and want to protect them. However, their intentions and beliefs ought not to overrule the rights of their children to best medical practices. Though an anti-vaccine parent wants the best for her child, the science tells us that they are not providing the best for their child. The issue has nothing to do with freedom or choice or parental rights. It’s about keeping kids from getting sick.

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Privilege and the Anti-Vaccine Movement

A common argument for keeping (often easy-to-obtain) philosophical exemptions to school entry vaccine requirements is that failing to do so will cause an undue burden on single parents or low-income families. This arguments serves to make refusing vaccines a right and a matter of social justice–when really, nothing could be further from the truth.

Are anti-vaxxers out of touch or are they knowingly trying to play a sleight of hand? Mainstream media has reported on the correlation between wealth and vaccine refusal over and over and over and over and over again. (Apologies for all the overs–it’s been reported a lot!) In an article titled, “Neoliberal Mothering and Vaccine Refusal,” Jennifer Reich explains that children who are intentionally unvaccinated are those who are raised in families with two parents making an income over $75,000 a year.

PediatricianAccess to medical care, and therefore immunization, is an issue related to poverty, as we see higher under-vaccination rates (children who are behind schedule or missing some immunizations), in single-parent families earning less than $30,000 a year. A child who is under-vaccinated may not have seen a doctor recently and probably does not have a medical home–a clinic or doctor who maintains that child’s health records and who knows that child’s full health history.

It’s easy to imagine how a parent with little in the way of resources could end up with an under-immunized child. Taking a child to the doctor often requires time off of work, and when you earn little in terms of pay, taking time off to bring a child in to the doctor means less income yet. Transportation and health insurance are just two other barriers for a low-income child in receiving appropriate healthcare, including immunizations.

Those leading the charge in trying to keep their easy-to-obtain exemptions to vaccines are almost certainly those with the most access to healthcare. These are the parents with enough disposable income to spend extra money on supplements and sham healthcare such as homeopathy. Anti-vaccine parents are not worrying about taking time off of work, finding a medical home, or figuring out transportation to the doctor. They are working from a position of privilege.

What do these privileged anti-vaxxers want to do to solve the problem of access to care? They want to keep it easy to keep children under- and un-vaccinated.

In a cynical and self-serving turn, anti-vaccine activists ignore the many real issues of access to medical care–children who are not being screened for developmental problems, children whose asthma or hearing problems or slow growth are not being monitored, children with serious and potentially deadly illnesses who are suffering for too long because of lack of access to care. The anti-vaccine activists have decided to ignore these real issues in order to use children in poverty as a shield to protect their children of privilege from getting required vaccines to attend school.

A wealthy and educated group of people who use another person’s poverty and lack of resources in order to protect the privilege to opt out of a community responsibility is the absolute height of selfishness. The onus is on the rest of us not only to make sure that immunization rates are high, but also to make sure our under-immunized children get the care they need instead of becoming a shield for the anti-vaccine industry.