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Why I vaccinate my children, and hope other parents do, too
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Vaccination is part of our social responsibility, and those who choose not to vaccinate are putting all of us at risk. - photo by Erin Stewart
I do not like vaccinating my children. No parent relishes the idea of extra synthetic substances and inactivated diseases being shot into the arms of their screaming child.

But I vaccinate my children anyway.

I worry about side effects, but I worry more about the comeback of eradicated diseases like polio and measles, which is now spreading in the United States after an outbreak at Disneyland.

Mostly, though, I vaccinate my children because it is part of my social responsibility to do so. Most anti-vaccination folks are pretty entrenched in their mistrust of vaccines, so I know Im not going to change their minds about the pros and cons of vaccines.

I find it funny, though, that many in the anti-vaccination camp use the argument that vaccines are unnatural. If anything, nature is the exact reason I vaccinate my children. Naturally, measles killed more than 2.6 million people each year before widespread vaccination. Naturally, more than 400 people worldwide still die every day from measles, according to the World Health Organization.

So, yes, vaccines are not natural, just like modern medicine. Both unnaturally prolong our lives and increase our childrens chances of survival.

And while were talking about the natural way, perhaps we should also take a look at another law of nature that guides my thoughts on vaccines: herd mentality. In nature, packs of animals survive because they put the needs of the group above their individual needs. They understand the basic law of the herd: If the herd dies, you die.

Im all for individual rights and agency, but I also believe in protecting the herd. Isnt that why we have laws to curb drug use, drunk driving and prostitution? We take away a measure of individual choice to protect the larger society.

I dont think the government is going to make not vaccinating illegal anytime soon, but we should be required to vaccinate, if we want to reap the benefits of society. If you want your child to be around other children in the free public education system, play by the rules to protect others. If you want the benefits of the herd, protect the herd.

At its core, not vaccinating is selfish. These parents want all the benefits without any of the risks. In nature, that attitude would get them cast out of the herd in an instant with good reason. They endanger everyone by putting themselves above the pack.

Until now, the anti-vaccination folks have been lucky. They have been able to wage their war for individual rights safely within the bubble of inoculation provided by everyone else.

But that bubble is shrinking. We are chipping away at the 90 percent vaccination rate needed to keep diseases like measles at bay. Once that herd immunity is gone, we are all at risk not just the unvaccinated children. Newborn babies are at highest risk and, even people who have been vaccinated are not 100 percent immune.

Those diseases will resurface and people will die; that is the natural order of things.

Then, it will be too late for vaccines. I wonder if those now opposed to vaccines will be willing to do just about anything to keep their children safe when that time comes. Will they want the protection of unnatural medical advances, and be clamoring for help from the herd?

Hopefully, we will be able to help them and ourselves and not just watch as nature takes its course.