Parents who do not vaccinate their children are choosing to exercise their individual freedom to do so. One example of such a parent is Shane “The People’s Chemist” Ellison. He has a master’s degree in organic chemistry. Not only does he choose to not vaccinate his own children, he advises other parents to do the same. Ellison has authored a book titled Over-The-Counter Natural Cures. The rising tide of parents in the U.S. who do not vaccinate their children, however, corresponds to the increasing number of outbreaks of diseases for which vaccinations exist.
Many vehemently disagree with parents such as Ellison. Some pediatricians even refuse to see children who have not been vaccinated. What creates the most ire toward parents who choose not to vaccinate is that their choice puts vaccinated children at risk. This reasoning behind this statement comes directly from a theory called herd immunity, which posits that immune-compromised individuals are less likely to come into contact with an infectious agent if the people who are around that individual are already immune to the infectious agent. At-risk immunized individuals are protected by a human shield of sorts.
Ellison does not believe in the herd immunity theory, calling it “borderline stupid” and “a silly catch-phrase” that is used to bully parents into having their kids vaccinated. He reasons that if vaccines actually worked, then the phrase “at-risk vaccinated children” would be a contradiction in terms. Ellison lists three reasons he advises parents against vaccinating their children, and he supports these reasons with several quotes from authorities in the field, including the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. First, he says that vaccination does not necessarily equate to immunization. The body’s defenses, when and if they are successfully triggered by the vaccine, are boosted only temporarily. Vaccines can weaken the immune system, which has the net effect of making the body not less but more susceptible to infection by whatever disease it was vaccinated against. Secondly, says Ellison, vaccines expose children to toxins such as heavy metals, allergens, chemicals, and antibiotics. Thirdly, children are able to build immunity naturally through nutrition, hygiene, and sanitation.
The 2010 PBS film The Vaccine War takes a look at the trend of opting out of vaccinations as well as the polarized debate that is invariably provoked by this trend. The film notes that the West and Midwest have some of the highest rates of vaccine exemptions. According to an article that was published in late 2013, 65 percent of the incoming kindergartner students at schools located within the upscale San Francisco neighborhood of Pacific Heights were not up-to-date on all their vaccinations.
This is an exasperating statistic for many doctors and parents, and in California exemption from vaccination due to personal belief has become more restrictive. As of January 1, 2014, the signature of a health care practitioner is required in order for parents to obtain an exemption from vaccinating their children based on personal beliefs. It is the belief, however, of many doctors and governmental health organizations that immunization can save a child’s life and protect future generations against diseases that either severely disabled or killed people of past generations. Vaccinations keep diseases that are considered uncommon in the United States as just that, uncommon. For example, the last case of indigenous measles on record for North, Central, and South America was reported in 2002. The measles outbreaks that have occurred, including the most current one in California, originated from an importation of the measles virus from another region of the world where vaccination against it is uncommon. As for travel, International Health Regulations require only two vaccinations, yellow fever and meningococcal, and only for travel to specific parts of the world. As society becomes simultaneously more global and less willing to vaccinate their children, it also harbors more outbreaks of the diseases that were once considered eradicated in the U.S.
By Donna Westlund