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Sunday, March 24, 2019

When their “rights” imperils us all

Mark Sumner Daily Kos Staff

Anti-vaxxers have been with us since the discovery of
vaccination. Here's a 1930s cartoon on anti-vaxxer
resistance to smallpox vaccination.
It’s been a banner week for anti-vax, anti-science, anti-sense information that is anti-American in the most fundamental sense: because it directly threatens the health and lives of Americans. 

And unfortunately, one of the most prominent voices for anti-vax on the left is contributing to this threat in a way that could raise the body count as much as those on the right could.

On Thursday, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin let it be known that he had intentionally exposed his nine children to chickenpox rather than give any of them the chickenpox vaccine. 

Bevins was smugly proud of this, explaining that “it all turned out fine.” 

Except that it didn’t, because this exposure set his children up to develop shingles later in life, a condition that can be not only extremely painful, but potentially disabling or blinding. 

And that’s far from the limit of what might have happened, or what might still happen. 

Chickenpox may strike children, but it’s not kid’s stuff. 

Previous to the development of the vaccine, nearly 13,000 Americans ended up hospitalized each year for complications related to chickenpox. 

Between 100 and 150 of them died. The availability of the vaccine dropped the number of deaths by 87 percent, but in encouraging people to not get vaccinated, Bevin in setting up a situation that could easily—easily—lead to increased deaths, disability, and disfigurement. 

Image result for quarantine the unvaccinated
If anti-vaxxers don't want to vaccinate their kids, they should not be able
to expose the rest of us. Their right to be stupid does not "trump"
public health
Unfortunately, he’s not alone. And his companions in attempting to murder Americans via ignorance aren’t limited to parents who refuse vaccines for measles or whooping cough because they’ve been falsely convinced of a nonexistent link between vaccines and autism. 

On Thursday, Robert Kennedy Jr. used the prominence of his family name—again—to suggest that there’s a connection between increased rates of anxiety and depression among American teens and the Gardasil vaccine. 

This vaccine protects Americans, both men and women, from developing life-threatening cancers caused by human papillomavirus. In particular, these viruses are a leading cause of cervical cancer in women. 

In the United States, there are an estimated 24 million active cases of papillomavirus infection, leading to between 100,000 and 200,000 cases of cervical cancer each year, and around 12,000 deaths.

Anti-vaxxers made the Gardasil vaccine a target shortly after it became available, using claims of toxicity and playing off parents’ fears that the vaccine would somehow license young people to be “more sexually active.” 

Those claims have already resulted in decreased use of the vaccine in some areas, and have made the effort to deploy the medication more difficult. 

Even the most casual Google search for information on papillomavirus or cervical cancer is likely to turn up false information on “the dangers of vaccines.”

Previous to the availability of chickenpox vaccines, it was not unusual for people to deliberately expose their children to chickenpox—for a good reason. 

Statistically, children exposed before adolescence were less likely to develop serious symptoms or to be left with lasting scars from the exposure. 

Parents carrying out this action before the availability of the vaccine were often acting on the advice of medical professionals and following sound science. 

But with the availability of the vaccine, deliberately exposing any child to chickenpox is simply opening them up to serious illness, both immediately and later in life, and creating the possibility that the child will spread the disease to someone who is pregnant, where it can result in the death of a fetus.  

Deliberately exposing a child to chickenpox with the availability of the vaccine is an act of child endangerment—and abuse. Bevins has a lot to answer for, both for the suffering and needless risk he intentionally inflicted on his own children, and for the way his story is likely to bring that suffering to others.

Likewise, Kennedy’s statement is no more admirable than firing a gun through a crowded room or driving drunk through city streets—it may not bring death. But it absolutely could, and with a period of 15-20 years between exposure to papillomavirus and the average onset of cervical or anal cancers, the death toll from his action won’t soon be tallied.

Earlier this week, CNN reported on a woman whose son died from the flu. Rather than receiving messages to console her in her grief, her Facebook page was overrun by messages of hate, blaming her for the death of her child. The source of those attacks was anti-vaxxers.

The child did not die because of exposure to a vaccine. In fact, the child had not been vaccinated against the flu. Which is why the anti-vaxxers swooped in. Anti-vax groups have developed attacking grieving parents whose children have died from disease as a tactic

News that a child has died from flu or some other disease for which a vaccine does or might exist brings a swarm of anti-vax hate “telling the parents they're lying and their child never existed, or that the parent murdered them, or that vaccines killed the child, or some combination of all of those.” As the report showed, “nothing is considered too cruel” if it protects the anti-vax position.

There are people who are genuinely unable to accept vaccines because of medical conditions that leave them immunologically compromised. These people represent a very small percentage of the population, but the threat to them created by people not using vaccines when possible is great.

Results of the largest study of any possible link between vaccines and autism, published earlier in March, found that children who received vaccines were actually slightly less likely to develop autism than those who did not. 

Kennedy’s tweet suggesting a link between vaccine and mental illness, like all other unsupported claims intended to prevent the use of life-saving vaccinations, should be treated as a call to violence and result in banning from the service.