When Worlds Collide: Those Who Can’t Versus Those Who Won’t

By Scott St. Clair | The Save Jersey Blog

This is PART TEN of a multi-part series on an important topic, Save Jerseyans.

Click here for Part One (You’re Kidding, Right?), here for Part Two (Snake Oil and Politics), here for Part Three (Vaccinations or Communicable Diseases), here for Part Four (Herd Immunity and Unvaccinated), here for Part Five (Who are the Anti-Vaxxers?), here for Part Six (Free Choice-Based Anti-Vaxxer Opposition), here for Part Seven (Diseases Are Safe; It’s Vaccines that Kill You), here for Part Eight (Anti-Vax Physicians or Dangerous Quacks?), and here for Part Nine (When the Anti-Vaxxer Fist Strikes Your Nose) if you missed’em…

When Worlds Collide: Those Who Can’t Versus Those Who Won’t

Exactly why are they so upset? The answer is frightening.

According to the American Cancer Society, there were nearly 14.5 million Americans with a history of cancer who were alive on Jan. 1, 2014. According to the website Aids.gov, there are more than 1.2 million people in the U.S. who are living with HIV infection.

According to the website Genome.gov, 40-100 is the best estimate (no official records are kept) on how many newborn babies in the U.S. are diagnosed with the rare genetic disorder Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), which means they’re born with no working immune system – think the movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.  

Salk administers the polio inoculation in 1957.
Salk administers the polio inoculation in 1957.

Generally speaking, these are people with compromised immune systems, meaning their bodies haven’t the ability to combat diseases, nor can they be vaccinated against them. To them, a measles diagnosis is a death sentence.

Rather than link to another website, or cite additional statistics, let’s bring the discussion home to a personal level. In the late summer of 2009, a very close friend of mine was diagnosed with Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma— what she said was, “A fancy name for cancer of the lymphatic system.”

Off and on – mostly on – since then, she’s battled cancer, going through more rounds of chemo and radiation therapy and experimental treatments than the next 10 people could, or should, endure. Thankfully, she’s still with us and in remission, although if there’s a wretched side effect, she’s had it.

Even before she was diagnosed with cancer, she was an avid student of medical issues, in part because she has a deep interest in them, but also because of her experiences caring for her own mother during a terminal illness. She knows her stuff.

I asked her what she thought of the anti-vaxxer movement, those in it and how she saw it impacting her, and, true to form, she minced no words. But because she’s an intensely private person, I’ll leave identification of her to simply, “My Friend.” She wrote:

I personally feel truly violated by people who don’t take advantage of the vaccines that we have. It’s their choice absolutely, but when their child gets sick it doesn’t become just their issue.  Literally their choice not to vaccinate their child could result in killing me or others like me, would that be murder? (Emphasis added)

Obviously, My Friend has strong thoughts and feelings on the issue, including a deep-seated sense of who would be responsible for any fatal consequences that might befall her should she become unnecessarily infected with measles by the child of an anti-vaxxer parent:

As someone who has battled cancer for five years and is in remission but immunocompromised I fear right now travel, going to church, going to the movies, even the grocery store all because so many people have chosen not to take it advantage of vaccinations.  I don’t have a choice – I can’t have (the) measles vaccine because it has live virus that could kill me, as could measles. (Emphasis added)

Equating a refusal to vaccinate with child abuse, she posed a question to the mother of any child who passed along a fatal virus to her:

I guess if I get ill, I would like in an idealistic way for the mother of the child who carried the disease that killed me to look in the eyes of my child and explain her position. And I would truly like the parents who choose not to vaccinate to think about that scenario.

Of course, Dr. Wolfson would blame My Friend for her own death, and Dr. Sears would advise her anti-vaxxer neighbors to lie to her about their condition as their infected pre-schooler passes the virus along.

But let’s give the benefit of the doubt to others in the anti-vaxxer community, especially mothers, and say that maybe the question would be tough for them to answer – at least let’s hope it would be tough.

Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson framed the issue this way:

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).

Keep herd immunity intact by keeping vaccination rates high, or there will be unpleasant social consequences for those who don’t or won’t vaccinate. If it gets low enough, peer pressure may have to be replaced by legal pressure to safeguard the rights and health of others.

A parent, no matter how well intentioned, doesn’t have a license to send her disease-infested munchkin, who is now a type of IED – an improvised epidemiological disaster – wandering through the produce section of the local supermarket or to the ballpark or school or church or Disneyland or elsewhere in public to hand out free samples of a fatal illness to My Friend or others with compromised immune systems.