Certainly the topic of vaccines, especially when related to parental rights, can conjure up great emotions and red faces. Now I don’t expect this short article will really change anyone’s mind, but I’m not here to just change minds, I’m here to help people think more clearly, and if clear thinking changes minds, then so be it, but changing them directly is not my goal. There are a few questions related to this topic I want to explore and a couple of responses that I want to put forth. What I will be discussing is the following topics, should the government care about vaccines, are parents the only ones with a say, and what is the role of love for one’s neighbor (neighbor used as Jesus used it: everyone you come in contact with)?
Right off the bat in case you decide to read no further I want to put before you one simple consideration.
Case one: vaccines do not work but we keep giving them and only cause harm for a small number of people who get them (clearly not everyone vaccinated dies or even becomes ill from vaccines). This is the safest case for those who are anti-vaccine.
Case two: vaccines do not work and we stop giving them and no one is hurt by vaccines anymore. This is the riskiest case; are the anti-vaccine people really so confident as to risk everyone’s lives?
Case three: vaccines do work and save millions of lives at the cost of a small number of people who have bad reactions to them.
We cannot have it all three ways. Case two is obviously too risky considering our current data, and if the risk is equal between the other two, and only the third has the large potential upside, thus our only option as a society is to continue to vaccinate our children.
Are mandatory vaccines the type of thing governments should even get involved with in the first place?
To me it is clear that vaccines are not solely personal decisions, because the decision to vaccinate affects not only oneself and ones children, but ones neighbor and their children as well. This means that vaccinations interact with one’s personal and parental liberty, but also the liberty of others, namely their first and primary liberty: life. If the non-vaccination of one’s self or one’s child threatens the life of one’s neighbor shouldn’t the government at least consider getting involved?
I don’t think anyone would disagree with the laws against drunk driving, clearly drunk driving hurts the driver’s neighbors more than themselves. Drunk driving is clearly a case where the government appropriately limits one person’s liberty, the drunk driver, to protect other’s liberty, the drunk driver’s neighbors. Clearly one has the liberty to drink, and the liberty to drive a car, but when those liberties are combined other people’s liberty to life is so greatly threatened that restricting the liberty of the drunk driver is the only option. Of course the example is only meant to go so far, and I don’t mean to infer that vaccinations and drunk driving are connected in any other way but to say they affect more than just the primary person involved, and thus the government may have a righteous say in the matter.
Unlike a peanut allergy, which is only a bad thing for the child with the allergy, vaccines are the type of thing that is either universally good or universally bad by nature. A parent may be considered a bad parent for giving their peanut allergic child peanuts, but a parent with a child who’s allergies do not include peanuts is not evil for giving their child the same peanuts. If you have reasons to not vaccinate your children, than those reasons are potentially valid for everyone’s children.
Are parents, therefore, the only rightful participants in the decision to vaccinate their own children?
If vaccines are not like peanut allergies, a non-allergic child will not be affected by the allergic child’s eating habits, then they may entail the interest of outside parties who have a stake and say in their use.
If your child carried a highly contagious and deadly disease, do you think other parents should have a say in whether your child interacts with their children or not? If there was a way you could cure said disease and make your child not contagious, should other parents have a say in your using the cure? In our society, unless you live 100% contained on your own compound isolated from the rest of the world, you and your children will interact with others, and thus they should have a say. What rights do you have being a disease carrier opposed to the rights of others to be free of disease (or at least your infecting them)? In short, which is a more basic and necessary right: the right treat ones body how one wants and leave a disease uncured and contagious or the right to not be infected by a disease that someone else carries?
This concept applies to vaccines at least in the case where you may be a potential disease carrier if you do not vaccinate, and to me being an actual disease carrier and potential disease carrier shares a similar risk and therefore both are justifiable public issues. Of course some people still get diseases from or after vaccinating, but those cases are less likely, less risky, and of lower potential than catching a disease from not being vaccinated at all, plus in one case you have a responsible say and in the other you don’t.
Vaccinations are a moral and Christian obligation, are they not?
Because vaccinations theoretically and (in my study of the evidence) actually limit the spread of disease, they are a moral necessity for the good of one’s neighbor. If you love your neighbor, you will not wish to see his children die from the disease of your children. In fact Jesus goes so far to explain that ultimate love lays down its life for its neighbor, in this way if the choice was the death of one’s child or one’s neighbor’s (or potentially both), wouldn’t the righteous choice be to risk one’s child’s life for the life of both children and especially the neighbor’s child?
Throughout world history unvaccinated Christians risked their lives to care for the diseased and dying, and many died from the very diseased they sought to alleviate. Their personal risk was great out of love for their neighbor, how much less is our risk to vaccinate our children than theirs? Are they not for the same cause, to love and protect a neighbor’s life? Shouldn’t Christians willingly vaccinate in the name of love before even being forced to by the government? How can you say you love your neighbor when you risk his children by not vaccinating your own?
God commands us to obey the civil authority unless they directly disobey His clear commands. What command of God is the law to vaccinate transgressing? Even all our so called liberty is given to us by God and restrained by Him, and not anything we can or cannot do is apart from His authority. Are we potentially being arrogant and disobedient to God in thinking we can resist the civil authority, and claim authority over our children’s health in a way that risks others? Even if we are giving up freedom and the Government shouldn’t demand universal vaccinations for liberty’s sake, is not the charge to protect one’s child and one’s neighbor enough to willingly vaccinate? Is the evidence so great and so persuasive that vaccines are so inept that our obligation is to reject them?
I know the fear to risk the health of one’s own child is a righteous fear, a compelling fear, yet we must look beyond ourselves to our neighbors and their children, when considering vaccinations. If there is the chance that vaccinations may save our child and other children from suffering and death, how slight must that chance be before the obligation to love child and neighbor is outweighed by the immediate health risk to one’s child? And what is the risk to one’s child from vaccinations, autism, brain damage, death? Are they all equally risky or is one, like autism, considered the most likely?
We must also consider that there are a larger number of people opting out of vaccines in our country and thousands upon thousands of immigrants who are not vaccinated. It is no longer the case that by you not vaccinating your child you are only risking your child and no one else. One also must consider that there are elderly and infants who may have expired vaccinations or are too frail to have received any yet, and they too are at risk because of any unvaccinated child.
If autism is the most likely risk to vaccinations, is it not better that you have an autistic, disease free child, over a child who may become a disease carrier who infects other children, risking their lives?
The debate is far from over, if vaccines work or not, but as Christians what does it mean to love one’s neighbor, obey God, and government?