I support mandatory vaccination, especially for children, if doing so will help defeat our current plague. I realize this is an unpopular view at both ends of the political spectrum, and I fear that extreme steps aimed at enforcing social distancing mandates will provoke a backlash which will make vaccination against our current plague even more difficult if and when a vaccine is developed.
I first raised the issue of mandatory vaccination in last week’s column, in which I advised readers to ignore four types of people adding their comments to our national discourse: Celebrities saying “we’re all in this together,” and those who say the casualty rate is relatively low, or who advocate the premature opening of the economy, or who traffic in conspiracy theories. I specifically cited a theory justifying the resistance to accepting vaccination against our plague. This elicited more blowback than columns in which I either praised President Trump, or criticized him, or bashed the Chinese Communist Party.
Several who wrote me said their children had allergies, or genetically caused conditions, or were otherwise “immunocompromised” in such ways as to make them “medically fragile” and unable to be vaccinated. They should therefore be exempt from mandatory vaccine laws.
I agree. Nobody should be vaccinated if the vaccination will make him or her more ill. And in all states parents may seek medical exemptions from the mandatory vaccination of their children.
But my correspondents lost me when they said that vaccination should be a matter of choice for all parents under all circumstances. Here’s what baffles me:
I’ve never been a parent, and I make no claim to knowing how parents think. But it seems to me that if I were the parent of a medically fragile child who could not be vaccinated lest he become more sick, then I would want every medically sound child to be vaccinated. The reason: If everyone else is vaccinated, nobody will get a disease to pass on to my child. On the other hand, if enough other children are not vaccinated even if they are healthy enough to take a vaccine, some could conceivably get ill and pass their illnesses on to my vulnerable and unvaccinated child. Whatever the quality (or lack thereof) of my reasoning, that’s how I, as an admitted non-parent, see it.
But that’s not how the “anti-vaxers” see it. Some fear vaccines cause autism, despite the fact that that myth, based on a single flawed scientific paper now discredited, has been widely debunked, at least in the scientific community. Others claim that mandating vaccinations will serve no good purpose other than to fatten the profits of Big Pharma. And others—I suspect this is what is motivating some of my correspondents—fear, with unfortunately some degree of justification, a form of creeping totalitarianism in which the state takes over all authority for raising children, thereby weakening, if not severing, the natural parent-child bond.
I support social distancing, shelter-in-place, lockdowns, whatever, and the governments of Stephenville, Erath County, and Texas should be praised for promoting our safety while maintaining a due regard for our liberty as well. But I think that sometimes measures in other states and cities go too far. In Michigan, for example, the governor’s restrictions have provoked widespread protests, and not without reason. She’s ordered the cordoning off of parts of stores selling “nonessential” products: It’s okay to go to a Wal-Mart to shop for groceries, but you can’t buy gardening supplies or furniture there. Elsewhere, governors, mayors, and law enforcement officers have been patrolling church parking lots to take down license plates of churchgoers so they can be tracked down and fined, and have encouraged people to photograph and snitch on those failing to practice “proper” social distancing practices, presumably to facilitate their identification and punishment. Taken together, these policies, whatever their theoretical justification, are mimicking social control policies in police states wherein the government turns neighbor against neighbor to maintain an overall climate of fear of punishment for failing to slavishly follow the state. Our governments at all levels must be very careful lest in their zeal they go so far in protecting our safety that they raise questions about their commitment to our liberty as well.
One of the biggest dangers is that these excessive actions, however well meaning, will stoke the fears of anti-vaxers and increase resistance to being vaccinated against our plague, when that vaccine is fully developed, probably next year. As our triumphs over smallpox and polio have shown, a successful regimen of vaccination can eradicate once-deadly diseases and make them nightmares of the past. There is no better way to consign our current plague to the garbage can of history than to widely administer an effective vaccine. We should see the requirement that we be vaccinated not as a new example of a creeping totalitarianism, but as a logical extension of policies promoting public health and safety—especially policies which mandate that parents feed, clothe, house, and medicate their children. Governments in all parts of the country, while refraining from reopening the economy too early, should nonetheless guard against promoting the sort of police-state practices which will lead to a backlash against mandatory vaccination as well as other legitimate means of promoting our public health. Besides, the implementation of a successful anti-plague vaccination program will more effectively save our lives and leave us all healthy enough to continue debating the merits of how government should respond to epidemics, and otherwise seek the balance between freedom and safety in a democratic society.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.