Christianity,  Politics

Do we owe it to our neighbors to vaccinate our kids?

There’s a measles outbreak in California, and some GOP politicians are sounding an uncertain note on vaccinations. This is obviously a contentious issue today as so many parents are opting out of mandatory vaccinations. Michael Gerson enters the fray with a column titled “Vaccines and what we owe to our neighbors.” He writes:

Whether hipsters or home-schoolers, parents who don’t vaccinate are free riders. Their children benefit from herd immunity without assuming the very small risk of adverse reaction to vaccination. It is a game that works — until too many play it.

Herd immunity requires about 90 percent vaccine coverage. Some children with highly vulnerable immune systems — say, those being treated for leukemia — can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons. When the number of non-medical exemptions from vaccination gets large enough, the child with leukemia becomes the most vulnerable to the spread of disease.

The government (in this case, state governments) has the responsibility to keep vaccination rates above 90 percent, which benefits everyone. This requires burdening the freedom of parents in a variety of ways — not putting them in jail if they refuse to vaccinate but instead denying them some public good (such as public education) and subjecting them to stigma (which they generally deserve). As the rate of vaccination goes lower, the level of coercion must increase — making exemptions more difficult and burdensome to secure (as California needs to do).

This issue is important in itself. It also demonstrates a point that is properly called “philosophic.” Vaccination is communitarianism in its purest, laboratory form. The choices of citizens are restricted for a clearly (even mathematically) defined social good.

Read the rest here.


  • dr. james willingham

    Everything is becoming more and more scary or so it seems. Seniors have to face the reality that our vaccinations for the flue, for example, could be the cause of our getting the flue. And, admittedly, such things do happen, not counting whether or not more base motives might be involved in the supposed altruisms of the medical establishment and the government. However, there are individuals who are trustworthy, government and medical people who do care, and sometimes the believer must simply pray and trust God to provide the help needed to deal with a situation. I remember a missionary to Japan who, during the occupation period, was told by the government (she was a bi-vocational missionary who worked to support her own mission efforts) not to eat raw fish heads, for fear of a deadly amebic dysentery. One day she was invited by a poor Japanese man to have dinner with him and his family. She was served a raw fish head, and she prayed, “Dear Lord, you know I have been told that eating this raw fish could result in my death, but if I don’t eat no Christian will ever be invited to this man’s home again as these people consider the refusal of a dish to involve a loss of face. Therefore, I am going to eat, and if it means my death, I accept the consequences. But if possible, let me reach this man for Christ’s sake.” Obviously, she survived. She established about 10 Bible churches during her service in that nation. I considered her a godly Christian woman.

  • Lauren Law

    Wow. “…subjecting them to stigma (which they generally deserve).” Since when have we as Christians chosen that “shaming” people into doing what we require is okay? I don’t believe Jesus EVER shamed anyone into doing anything! The only people he “shamed” were the people who were trying to control the masses with their rules and regulations….seeking what was best for all over what was best for the individual.

    I DO believe children SHOULD be vaccinated. I vaccinated my three and my six grandchildren have all been vaccinated….this despite watching my daughter’s fever rise to 106 degrees for several hours after her second shot. BUT THAT WAS MY DECISION.

    I will NEVER believe that the “state” has the “right” to make decisions about me or my family that are decisions that should be made by me under the leadership of God. “Social good” has given us “abortion”…limited Christian activity in public places…the title “haters” for believing God’s Word regarding abortion. I don’t think I’ll go along with the “social good”…and I suspect that’s not really what our Savior came to earth for.

    Sorry, Denny…usually agree with you 100%. But I think you missed the boat on this one. PARENTS SHOULD BE IN CHARGE OF DECISIONS REGARDING THEIR CHILDREN…not the government!

    By the way…3 years ago there were twice as many cases of measles in America (222). Why did the media then not make the same brouhaha over this story? I suspect it’s a slow news season…and ebola didn’t give them the newsworthy attention they were hoping for. This is media-hype at it’s very best! An average of 2 children per STATE have this disease…compared to twice that many 3 years ago. Nope…not going to fall for the media hype on this one.

    • James Stanton


      Interesting. I hear liberals say this kind of thing a lot but usually when referring to the abortion issue.

      The State already has the right to take away one’s children if it is decided that they are being neglected or mistreated. We can debate this but it happens all the time.

      The vaccine issue isn’t a good hill to die on. It is a social good to vaccinate children but the government role should mostly be to educate and provide the proper means.

  • Tom Agnew

    So all my children are vaccinated but one who has not had all his boosters. This is due to the effects it had on him before discovering he has a severe dairy allergy. It spun his body into a tailspin that most cannot understand. After research that was confirmed by several reputable sources including an MD that our insurance covers, we chose to abstain, at least briefly. This was not a popular decision with our child’s primary care dr and who basically said we should get it for him even though the study was one she thought had validity. All for the goal of 90%.

    I get the overall responsibility of it but please don’t make simplistic overstatements like this that really don’t consider the entirety of reason to abstain from vaccinations. We get human flourishing but the overall guilt that is associated with immunizations is way bigger than the argument to love neighbor. With a friend who has a Child who has DOwn Syndrome, we know how her immune system is compromised but they have never made us feel guilt for this kind of thinking.

    Just a thought for a not-so-radical and hopefully temporary anti-immunization parent.

    • James Stanton

      Tom, it’s true that not everyone should be vaccinated. Those with compromised or weaker immune systems are part of the small minority of the population that should not be vaccinated. I think that there is a legitimate rationale for that and guilt should not be an issue.

  • Denny Burk

    Good thoughts, y’all. I don’t think it’s always an easy call. Of course there are some who need not to be vaccinated for a variety of reasons. I think Gerson recognizes that in his piece as well when he mentions the child with leukemia. There are many other such reasons that one might wish to avoid immunization. Having said that, it seems the debate is not about the those cases but about the vast majority of those children who do not have such health concerns. I think that’s what Gerson is addressing.

  • Christiane Smith

    Coming from a medical family, I would think that every parent who loves their children would want them to have the protection of being vaccinated. But today that is not the case.

    In the year 1962, the famous British children’s author, Roald Dahl wrote about his daughter, this: ” Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old.
    As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.
    “Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.
    “I feel all sleepy, ” she said.
    In an hour, she was unconscious.
    In twelve hours she was dead.
    The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her.” The measles vaccine was introduced in 1963.

    When my own husband was stationed in Washington D.C. some good friends there had a beautiful daughter of eleven years old, an only child. She became ill with the flu, as so many children do. But she got worse, and her temperature rose, her mother gave her lots of aspirin, but as her health worsened, they took the child to Bethesda Naval Hospital where she was admitted. She died within forty-eight hours of something called Reye’s Syndrome, and today physicians know not to prescribe aspirin to children who have the flu as it is thought to cause side effects like Reye’s Syndrome.

    So we learn. But should we learn through the deaths of those dearest to us, our own children?

    I am from a medical family. I support the vaccination of our young as the right thing to do.

  • Jane Dunn

    I disagree with Dr. Ben Carson about almost everything political, but he’s a brilliant pediatric brain surgeon. Here’s what he said:

    “‘Although I strongly believe in individual rights and the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit, I also recognize that public health and public safety are extremely important in our society,’ Carson, one of the world’s most prominent and well-regarded pediatric neurosurgeons, told The Hill in a statement.

    “’Certain communicable diseases have been largely eradicated by immunization policies in this country and we should not allow those diseases to return by foregoing safe immunization programs, for philosophical, religious or other reasons when we have the means to eradicate them,’ he added.
    Carson’s comments came amid a contentious political debate over vaccinations, spurred by an outbreak of measles.”

  • Don Johnson

    It is exactly the case of the free rider problem for most people, as there is a slight cost but great benefit if enough vaccinate. I saw a case where a child could not be vaccinated and the father asked the principal to expell any unvaccinated kids he would be in contact with, as they were a direct threat to his kid’s health. What a hot potato to try to handle. A measles outbreak in Ohio was due to Amish not vaccinating and a missionary returning from an area with a measles outbreak.

    The solution is to make it more costly to avoid getting vaccinated, but this goes against ideas of liberty. When are methods of social control warranted by the common good? I think it is clear in the measles case.

    • buddyglass

      Rather than “mandate” vaccination, i.e. send people to jail and/or take their kids away if they don’t vaccinate, just create a “nudge” by excluding them from situations where they’re likely to infect others and that the government directly controls.

      Public schools, both as an employee and student. Public universities, both as an employee and student. The military. The postal service. Any other job with federal, state or local governments. Police forces. Fire fighters. You could also make vaccination a requirement in order to access Medicaid and ACA subsidies.

      Put all that into place and I doubt you’d have to do much more in order to get all but the most dedicated vaccine opponents to vaccinate.

      Both my kids are vaccinated, but I did wait on HepB for my first one until he was about to start school. Mainly based on this study:

      …and the fact that HepB, unlike measles, isn’t transmitted through the air. Since my pre-K child was unlikely to have sex or share needles the risk was low of him being infected and/or infecting anyone else.

      • buddyglass

        Another idea: states could pass regulations requiring pediatric practices that accept patients who have opted not to vaccinate (without valid medical justification, e.g. leukemia) to prominently display that fact in all advertising and in their offices. Then let the free market work its magic.

        Vaccine skeptics would flock to those practices; everybody else would shun them.

  • Ian Shaw

    While I am not against vaccinations, I do believe there needs to be more research done on the efficacy of getting multiple vaccines at once. Parents should be educated on all potential side effects and ingredients that are in these vaccines. My children have been vaccinated, but we split up the vaccines so they don’t get 3-4 of them at a time. If parents are worried about side effects, split up the vaccines like that. Perhaps a month apart.

    But there are certain vaccines that should not be mandated whatsoever by public health…and that would be the flu vaccine.

  • Andy Chance

    I’m not against vaccination nor do I want to be alarmist. But substitute “Christians against homosexuality” for “non-vaccinators” and you have Christians excluded from public schools, universities, etc.

    While no one wants to see suffering, when outbreaks increase, people will act in their own self-interest to make sure that they and their children are vaccinated. While no one wants this, it is hard to see how this scenario is not superior to oppressive forms of state intervention..

      • Kenneth Abbott

        Unless the child’s parents, particularly the mother, are active carriers of the virus. The disease is endemic in eastern Asia largely because of transmission from close familial contacts.

    • buddyglass

      Jail time would have. None of the other stuff I suggested would have, since I don’t work for the government, use Medicaid or ACA subsidies. I eventually got him the HepB shot before enrolling in kindergarten.

  • Dal Bailey

    I have no problem with making people get their children vaccinated. As long as the company making the shots agrees to have a 1.5 Billion dollar fund for adverse reactions. Plus get their kids shot and THEMSELVES take them whether they need it or not….If there’s no danger, why worry??

    • buddyglass

      I strongly suspect the vast majority of pharmaceutical executives get their kids vaccinated. And a vaccine trust fund already exists, funded by an excise tax on CDC recommended vaccines. As of 1999 it had $1.3 billion.

  • Christiane Smith

    I’ve been doing a little homework on the vaccination controversy and Rand Paul, and what I found was that he has long been a member of the Eagle Forum which is strongly against vaccinations

    I know that vaccines are expensive to develop and mass produce, so there is a ‘profit’ concern, but I also am wondering WHO benefits (and how do they benefit) when speaking out against vaccinations for children?
    This, for me, is where things get murky, because I cannot imagine the agenda of those who want to prevent little ones from being inoculated against some very, very nasty diseases, some with potentially deadly complications.

  • Christiane Smith

    the news tonight showed a map of OUR country with measles outbreaks represented, so we can honestly say that we, as a country, have lost our ‘herd immunity’ . . . so those parents who wanted the freedom not to vaccinate have won a strange victory because it WOULD take gov’t intervention, that hated term, to enforce the vaccination of our children, and we know that the ‘gov’t’ is not so popular these days . . .

    I was just reflecting that this strange victory comes at such a terrible cost . . . most of the victims are, of course, children, and even now some babies too young to be vaccinated have caught the disease from older children in daycare whose parents refused them treatment . . . and when young babies get the measles, what is that saying? small sacrifices?
    so very sad as now it is a political issue and the children who have no voice are caught in the middle . . . they cannot protect themselves from what will come

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