Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Immunization Denial

Immunization denial is one of the most morally reprehensible idiocies in the idiocy bin. It would not rank as high as global warming denial, but it certainly is worse than holocaust denial, 9/11 and lunar landing conspiracy theories, and young-earth creationism.

Those who practice immunization denial not only put themselves and their children at risk, they also create conduits through which a disease can pass to others, many of whom will suffer greatly and some of whom will die as a result. In the list above, only global warming denial provides as short a rout from stupidity to suffering and death.

Every day, a parent gambles with his child's life. When he bundles his kid up and sends him to school, there is a chance that through accident or crime the child could end up dead. A parent gambles by getting a child immunized, and gambles by not getting their child immunized. The question is not whether to gamble with the child’s life or not, but which is the best gamble.

So, you have one chip, representing your child's life. You can bet either on red or black. If you bet on red, you have a 99.9% chance of winning – meaning that your child lives. If you bet on black, you have a 99.99% chance of winning.

The responsible parent bets on black.

Yes, there will be news reports of parents who bet on black and lost. Their child died. However, the parent who decides to bet on red in the face of those stories is being an idiot. He is allowing irrational thinking to drive him to put his child at greater risk because of an irrational fear of a lesser risk. Regardless of the stories about parents who bet on black and lost, the responsible parent still bets on black.

Ironically, depending on the numbers of people betting, we may end up with more parents who bet on black and lose than who bet on red and lose. Let's say that parents gamble with the lives of 100 million children. Of these, 99 million life chips are put on black, and 1 million are put on red. The parents who bet on black will lose 9,900 children. Those who bet on red will lose 1,000 children. But this does not make red the better bet. In this case,

The intellectually responsible parent knows how important it is to avoid these types of false implications and go with those facts that will best preserve their child’s life.

I have not even mentioned the fact that those who do not get immunized are a conduit for the disease to travel to others, some of whom will suffer and die. Those who shun immunization are like the soldier who falls asleep at his post, allowing the enemy to get into the camp and cause havoc among those the guards had a duty to protect.

The parents who bet on red are not only increasing the chance that their child will suffer and die, he is increasing the chance that his children’s playmates will suffer and die. He is putting grandma and grandpa at risk, and gambling with the life and health of every relative the child will visit and play with.

In all of this, the decision to gamble with no immunizations becomes a moral issue. People generally have many and strong reasons – those concerning their own life and health, and the lives and health of those they care about – to promote an aversion to this way of thinking through condemnation. It has every reason to condemn immunization deniers as irresponsible, reckless, and of lacking the consideration for the welfare of others that a good person would have.

If they pride themselves on their intelligence and virtue for avoiding the other idiocies floating around in the world – from global warming to 9/11 conspiracies to young earth creationism – they prove in this case that their avoidance of these other idiocies have more to do with luck than with intellectual virtue.


Marc said...


I agree with you that immunization in general is a good thing and that denial of this fact is immoral.

However, as this article argues, flu immunization may not be such a straight forward case. Or rather it may be a case in which more research is needed into the effectiveness of population wide immunization.

Just my 2 cents. :-)

Eneasz said...

I think this raises an interesting question.

First, obviously I believe your conclusions are correct, immunization is one of the greatest forces for good in the modern world. Immunization is responsible (as an estimate) for approx 1/3rd of the current world population being alive. This is a mind-boggling number, and an incredible achievement.

The question I feel is of relevance is that of "letting die vs killing". (To sum up, it is the question of whether it is permissible for a doctor to kill one patient in order to harvest his organs and save five others. The answer is no.)

The fear is that by giving your child an immunization, he may (with incredibly small probability) die due to the immunization. This feels like killing your child. Not giving him the shot and allowing your child to die of small pox feels like letting him die due to natural forces. Even if the odds are 0.001% of a vaccine death, and 3% of a disease death, they feel qualitatively different.

And due to EVERYONE ELSE getting the shot, it's more like 0.001% and 0.005%.

Obviously we don't want to return to a state where 1/3rd of all children died before they reached their teens due to vaccine-preventable death. But given the current state, it's hard to demonstrate to people why they should risk the smaller chance of Killing vs the (larger, but still very small) chance of Letting Die.


I think I just answered my own question. I guess it's more of a practical question of ending the free-rider problem.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting idea. Where did you study medicine? Probability? Rational thought process?

Who cares which person is immunised (immuniZed in the American, bastardisation of a perfectly good language, spelling)

If we are the strong. We survive! We live to put forward our genetic material. Or we get sick and evolve a strong immunity.

If your offspring are physically inferior they will die! If this happens to mine then so be it. The next genetic combination my mate and I produce might survive.

If you let every pathetic creature live because you have assisted them then you are not doing the best for the species.

gods and christians promote ethical obligations to care for more weaker individuals than themselves.

Infected individuals should be removed to their own regions... animals do this. Why don't you see the intelligence