Parents: It’s Your Fault if Your Unvaccinated Child Makes Someone Sick

I’ve argued on this blog, for many years, that choosing not to vaccinate your kids (unless there is a medical reason) is a form of child abuse. First, it’s potentially harmful or fatal to your unvaccinated child. Second, it’s potentially harmful or fatal to the children to whom your unvaccinated child is exposed.Here’s a powerful argument, originally published in Medscape, from Art Caplan, MD, from the Division of Medical Ethics at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. I hope you’ll take the time to respond to his thoughts:

Are you doing enough to make sure that your patients and their kids are getting vaccinated? Sometimes we leave this for the pediatrician to worry about, but I think that every doctor who sees patients should make it a part of taking the history to ask if they are up to date on vaccinations. Have they gotten their boosters? What are they doing with their kids?

All over the United States, we are tragically seeing the recurrence of diseases that weren’t here 20 years ago. Whooping cough, mumps, and measles are all on the rebound because people don’t vaccinate their kids or they don’t get the booster shots that they need to grant immunity to themselves. There was a recent outbreak in Texas in a small church, and these outbreaks are pretty typical. It’s not that most people don’t vaccinate, but you get pockets of people who aren’t doing it. In this case, a particular church didn’t believe much in Western medicine. Someone went to Africa and got exposed to measles. Then they came back and they paid a visit to a neonatal nursery, infecting the babies, who, you may remember, can’t get vaccinated until they are at least a couple of months old. They don’t have enough immunity. The place is quarantined and the parents in the neonatal nursery are freaking out, wondering if the kids are going to die of measles or if they are going to get side effects and other medical problems.

A couple of lessons emerge from this measles situation. We are seeing outbreaks all over the United States and all over the world because pockets of people are not getting vaccinated. First, we have to make it an important mission in medicine to urge people to get their vaccinations. If they are not in your office, then it has to be brought up at church. If it’s not at church, it has to be brought up at school. Vaccination works best when it is something that everybody does. That’s where we get our group or herd immunity. More protection comes from more people getting involved. Doctors and nurses really have to advocate hard for this.

If you suspect that someone hasn’t been vaccinated or you hear about it, then it’s important to tell that person, “You have responsibilities.” You wouldn’t send your kids to daycare if they have symptoms of a cold or illness. You shouldn’t be visiting a neonatal unit if you haven’t gotten yourself or your kids vaccinated. It’s one thing to make a decision not to vaccinate. I’m not sure I would change that. I still think people have the right to make that decision. I don’t think it’s a smart thing to do, but they have the right. However, they are responsible for the consequences. They need to understand that if they make somebody sick or they kill a child because they gave them a disease that was preventable, it is on them. It is even possible that they could get sued for the harm and damage that they caused as a result of irresponsible behavior after choosing not to vaccinate.

I don’t think that’s too tough. I think that it is the responsible and right thing to do to tell people to get vaccinated, not just for yourself but for your neighbor and for others. If you choose not to do that, remember that you are responsible. You have to take precautions so that you don’t hurt others.

Dr. Caplan, I agree. I don’t think it’s too tough, either. Here are some of my other blogs on the topic:

2 thoughts on “Parents: It’s Your Fault if Your Unvaccinated Child Makes Someone Sick

  • Jason

    Wow!,I stopped listening to any advice from this website after I read the above piffle…Does the author of this article realise that,in my part of the world at least,kids that ARE vaccinated against Flu usually have a day or two off school AFTER getting the vaccinations due to flu-like symptoms and fever etc?,the same goes for the elderly who are given this junk.
    Ironically,the children who are NOT vaccinated have no more time off school and report no more sickness than those who DO get vaccinated….And after he implied that parents who DO NOT vaccinate their children are guilty of child abuse!!…I’m sad to say that this guy who penned this nonsense above is a very dangerous Man indeed,i would strongly recommend that you not listen to advice from this disgraceful website.

  • Jason,

    Thanks for taking the time to write. However, I’m aware of ZERO data to support YOUR PIFFLE (to use your terms).

    The facts are this: Children have the highest chance of getting sick from the flu and often spread the germs throughout their communities. During bad flu seasons, about 40% of preschoolers and 30% of school-aged children get sick with the flu. The majority are not vaccinated.

    Here in the U.S., studies show flu vaccinations DO NOT cause missed days from school. In point of fact, just the opposite occurs. The flu vaccine actually cuts down on flu-related missed school days by 47-56%. The data show that during the 2011-2012 flu season, children sick with the flu here in the U.S. missed about 90 million school days.

    Closer to your home, you apparently are not aware of the annual UK Flusurvey in your country. It’s now in its fifth year and reports that in the UK children aged under 18 years old were most likely to report having flu-like symptoms and on average missed three days of school when they were ill. For the first time, during this 2013-13 flu season, U.K. researchers will be working with the British Science Association to link up with schools to monitor the impact of the virus in UK classrooms. My guess is that the U.K. data will mirror the U.S. experience.

    Parents also need to know that influenza is one of the leading causes of infectious disease hospitalizations among young children. Here in the U.S., approximately 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized due to the flu each year.

    And, even worse, on average, nearly 100 children die in the United States from influenza and its complications every year. Unfortunately, most of these children are not immunized.

    Jason, the “dangerous man,” it seems, is not the one you’re reading, but rather, the one you see in the mirror.

    Dr. Walt

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