Thinking Critically - Frustrated with willfully ignorant parents

It is starting to look like a good year for Bordetella pertussis. Like all organisms on the planet, this bacterium, which is responsible for recent outbreaks of whooping cough in Yorkton and Saskatoon, has a biological imperative to reproduce.

Whooping cough is a serious respiratory infection, especially for babies and young children. It can lead to hospitalization, pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and even death in some cases.

The bacteria has developed a very good strategy for accomplishing its biological imperative. It makes its victims cough violently, which sends copies of itself out into the world where they can infect other hosts.

And it is really good at the infecting thing too. Almost everyone who comes in contact with someone who has it will be infected if they are not immune.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all become immune to it?

There’s a vaccine.

Okay, but it’s probably expensive, I guess a lot of people probably can’t afford to get it, right?

It’s free.

Okay, so why aren’t hospitals, family physicians, pharmacies, schools and public health agencies spreading the word?

They are.

Okay, so, it must just be pretty ineffective, right?

No, it is very effective.

Dangerous?

Perfectly safe.

So, if there is a free, very effective, safe vaccine available to everybody and it is being actively promoted, why are so many people still getting this disease?

There are people who don’t believe in it.

Ah, I see, scientists are divided because it is unproven, then?

No, they aren’t, it’s actually just a few celebrities who have raised a doubt among some parents.

Health officials and medical professionals are very compassionate with these parents. I am not. Willful ignorance is no excuse for endangering not only your own child, but others’ as well.

I am cognizant, however, that we live in an advanced society based on individual rights and freedoms. Because of that, I am loath to suggest parents should be denied the right to make their own decisions, but I am not necessarily above a little coercive persuasion.

Many jurisdictions, including California, Ontario and New Brunswick, have decided to deny unvaccinated children entry into the school system. Australia has taken it a step further with a “no poke, no pay” policy that denies welfare recipients their benefits if they don’t vaccinate.

These are not perfect solutions either. My problem with them is the potential for punishing children for their parents’ stupidity. Then again, if these kids end up getting pertussis, or measles or polio, the consequences can be much worse than missing Grade 1.

Something has to be done to get vaccinate rates up. We had all but eradicated many of the diseases that are now making comebacks for no good reason.

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