It’s Time for the State to Put an End to the Anti-Vaccination Movement

by Benjamin Studebaker

Measles is on the move again in Disneyland. Unvaccinated children are catching and spreading the disease in California. Things have gotten so dire that kids with cancer (whose immune systems are compromised and so cannot be vaccinated) are afraid to go to school for fear that unvaccinated children will give them the disease. The risks are not merely to unvaccinated children, but to the general population as a whole–unvaccinated people provide breeding grounds for long forgotten pathogens, giving them opportunities to mutate into strands that the vaccines do not protect against. Enough is enough. It’s time for the state to put an end to this nonsense. Here’s why.

I want to start by reminding everyone that the anti-vaccination movement has no scientific case whatsoever. I’m not going to spend paragraphs arguing against the movement’s claims. If you doubt the efficacy of vaccines, I urge you to check out this link, where a wide array of anti-vaccination claims are meticulously debunked. For the purposes of this piece, we’re going to assume that you, the reader, are a reasonable, well-informed person who understands that vaccines do what scientists claim they do–immunize people against preventable diseases.

What I’m here to argue is not that vaccines are good for you (they clearly are), but that they are so good for children and for our society as a whole that the state should no longer permit parents to obtain exemptions from vaccine requirements for their children. I want to be very clear about this. It is my view that the state should label failure to vaccinate child abuse and criminalize it. Parents who do not vaccinate should go to prison and their children should be taken away from them. Vaccination is an idea that is so good it must be mandatory. I don’t care what your religion says. I don’t care what your personal beliefs are. Mandatory.

There are two reasons that we should have the government nakedly, openly, and unapologetically coerce these parents:

  1. The Children–unvaccinated children are being put in unnecessary and unreasonable risk.
  2. Society–unvaccinated children compromise herd immunity and threaten all of us with mutated monster diseases.

The Children

In California, failing to vaccinate is a straight-up epidemic:

California’s data is the best, but it’s far from the worst state when it comes to vaccinations. There are 12 states with lower vaccination rates, and even the top state (Mississippi, surprisingly) only manages to fully vaccinate 76% of its children. Since 2007, it’s estimated that this has resulted in over 144,000 preventable illnesses and over 6,000 preventable fatalities in the United States alone. That’s about 20,000 illnesses and 860 deaths per year, and as the anti-vaccination movement spreads, this will likely get worse. For comparison, only 650 children die in car crashes each year. Not getting vaccinated is more dangerous than failing to buckle up. Why do I mention seatbelts and child restraints? Because all US states have laws that criminalize failing to properly secure one’s offspring when driving. There are no religious or personal belief exemptions. And do you know why? Because putting a child in a car without a seat belt or restraint subjects that child to an unnecessary and unreasonable risk of injury or death. The child cannot understand the risk or consent to it, so the state protects children by legally requiring restraints.

Many parents whose personal beliefs are in the minority believe that they are entitled to impose those beliefs on their children. In most cases, the state allows parents wide latitude when deciding how to raise their children, but there are limits to this. When parents engage in behavior that endangers their children, we criminalize that behavior and threaten parents who engage in it with prison and potential loss of custody. You can’t starve your kids, you can’t beat them, you can’t have sex with them. You can’t put them in a car without restraining them. You can’t leave them in a hot car for three hours. It doesn’t matter what your religious beliefs are, when the welfare of the child is threatened by the beliefs of the parent, the child comes first. And for that reason, even if herd immunity wasn’t an issue and failing to vaccinate only posed a risk for the children themselves, it would still be appropriate to criminalize it. No parent should be permitted to subject any child to any risk of measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, or any of the other preventable diseases (and potentially lethal) diseases.


The sad thing is that the vaccination problem isn’t just limited to the children who go without. The larger the percentage of the population that goes without, the easier it is for these anachronistic diseases to spread throughout the population (“herd immunity”). And the more people they can reach and reproduce in, the more opportunities they will have to mutate and evolve, leading to vaccine-resistant strains:

I don’t have to tell you how bad that is, but I will anyway. Remember how spooked everyone was over Ebola? They needn’t have been, because Ebola isn’t especially contagious. On average, each person who catches Ebola only infects 2 others. Each person who catches the mumps can infect 10 people. And measles? 18. Check the data out:

Do you want to catch mutated mumps or measles? I sure don’t. Would you be willing to have the government force ignorant parents to get their kids vaccinated to make sure nobody ever does? I sure would. This really doesn’t seem like the sort of thing we should mess around with. It’s easy to forget now, but before vaccines, an immense number of people got sick and died every year from these diseases. Rubella killed 2,000 American babies from 1964-1965 alone. 15,000 Americans died from diphtheria in 1921. Do we really want to risk allowing mutations to take us back to that just so a rogue cohort of deeply ignorant people’s beliefs are not offended? Come on, seriously?

The good news is that there’s already a legal precedent for requiring vaccinations. In the 1905 Jacobson v. Massachusetts case, the Supreme Court ruled that states could enforce compulsory vaccination laws. That precedent was upheld in 1922, when the court ruled that schools could refuse to admit students that did not submit to compulsory vaccinations. Nowhere in these decisions does the Supreme Court require the government to permit religious or personal belief exemptions to vaccination laws. Said the court:

According to settled principles, the police power of a State must be held to embrace, at least, such reasonable regulations established directly by legislative enactment as will protect the public health and the public safety.

The vaccination question is not a question of personal beliefs or tastes. It is a question of public health and safety. The anti-vaccination movement puts the health and safety of the public at unnecessary and unreasonable risk. The government has a duty to stamp it out. For too long, we’ve been asking ourselves how we can convince the anti-vaccine crowd to voluntarily stop damaging public health. This is the wrong question. We don’t need to convince them, we need to coerce them. Quickly! Before these diseases spread and mutate! There’s no time.