Personal Choice, Social Responsibility
The debate over Sears’ book highlights the conflicts between individual choice and social responsibility.
“Clearly, keeping vaccination rates high and following the regular vaccination schedule is in our nation’s best interest from a public health standpoint,” Sears says. “I’m trying to help ... individual families understand how to make vaccine decisions for their own child. Parents really don’t look at the public health’s best interests when they’re making vaccine choices. I find that they’re inherently more selfish about their own children’s health. I don’t mean ‘selfish’ in a negative way; they’re just naturally thinking about their own child much more than what might be in the best interest of our entire nation. To me, that seems like a natural way for any parent to approach the decision.”
Fisher says that approach is risky. “If you want to use individual choice -- so you say, 'OK, I’m not going to let my child risk a reaction to the vaccine because everybody else is getting immunized, so my child’s going to be protected by the herd' -- that, to me, is almost an abuse of the idea of the public health system.”
She says the CDC’s vaccine schedule has been used for decades, but “we don’t know what happens with these alternative schedules or whether or not we will have the same public health impacts.”
Furthermore, unvaccinated kids can endanger other children who simply can’t be vaccinated, such as those who are too young, too sick, or have a weak immune system. Public health officials have cited unvaccinated children and adults as one of the reasons behind California’s whooping cough epidemic in 2010. Ten babies died in that epidemic, all of them too young to have been fully immunized against the disease.
“If there’s a reason your child can’t be immunized, then you’re really counting on everybody else being immunized so that they don’t expose your child,” Fisher says.