Herd Immunity and Moral Individualism, Part 1

The argument over vaccination is largely based on miscommunication. Most vaccine detractors actually have no issue whatsoever with the concept of vaccination. As an extension of the homeopathic principle of hormesis, vaccination in concept (and even in practice) is far older than allopathic medicine. Most people “against vaccination” take issue with many of the highly processed, mass-produced vaccination shots because they contain harmful “non-active” materials (e.g., aluminum, mercury or mercury-based preservatives, fetal tissue, etc.), many of which have been tentatively linked to various diseases and complications.

Most proponents of vaccination think that anti-vaccination people are tin-hatted enemies of scientific fact who stubbornly hold to their selfish, Luddite ways in contradiction to sound judgment and the well-being of the human race. In order to prove that vaccination is a good idea, they point to how vaccines have effectively wiped out a large number of diseases already. But these diseases are not so completely wiped out that we can let our guard down yet, they argue. Smallpox vaccinations may be a thing of the past, but other diseases are another story.

The strongest argument for vaccinations is contained in the idea of herd (or community) immunity, the fact that when a large enough percentage of a population (or herd) is immune to a disease (through vaccination or prior exposure), even the susceptible members of the population will be protected because the disease will not be able to spread through hardly anyone else. If disease is like a fire, herd immunity is like surrounding anything inflammable with fireproof material.

The perceived deterioration of herd immunity is what upsets so many proponents of vaccination. They believe that anti-vaccination families are committing two selfish acts: 1) They are enjoying the herd immunity that other families take the risks to secure, all the while looking down on pro-vaccination parents as uninformed or less than concerned for the well-being of their children. 2) By advocating a rejection of vaccinations, they are actually jeopardizing the herd immunity. If too many families forego the risk of vaccination, the population as a whole (especially the most susceptible members) could suffer calamitous results.

So there is an impasse. Vaccination proponents could do a lot by pushing for a more spread out schedule for childhood vaccinations, as well as a more on-demand (live culture) approach to vaccines. This would be more expensive, but it would still work, with far fewer risks and complications. They could also discontinue their habit of recommending vaccines for every insignificant non-fatal disease a person might encounter. Stick to life-threatening or life-altering diseases, a spread-out booster schedule, and “fresh” vaccines, and anti-vaccination people might just jump on board.

On the other hand, anti-vaccination people could stop arguing against “vaccination” and start talking about what really bothers them: highly toxic non-active ingredients in vaccines, the extraordinary number of concurrent vaccinations in booster schedules, and a lack of parental rights over their children’s health care. Then pro-vaccination people might be able to see that anti-vaccination people don’t necessarily hate science, facts, or progress. And we could all get along.

Anyway, that isn’t happening. Instead, like in so many other futile arguments going on around the country, people are talking past each other and the discussion doesn’t move forward.

So in the current climate for vaccination, you basically have two choices: Either take the chance on vaccines (risking actual harm in order to prevent possible harm), thus “doing your part” to secure herd immunity, or you could protect your children from the immediate risks of vaccines while putting the greater community at risk should too many people follow your example. The battle over vaccinations has really become about which is more important: individual interests or community interests. And in that capacity, it opens up into a much larger discussion of the moral and political impasse we are at as a country. More on that next time.