The Real Reason Kids Aren’t Getting Vaccines
Journalist Megan McArdle, in a 2011 post for The Atlantic, opined: “We spent most of the last century trying to stamp out the infectious diseases that used to cripple and kill hundreds and thousands of people every year. Sometimes it seems like the bobo elites plan to spend the 21st century bringing them all back.”
These “bobo elites” are fair targets, especially if you live somewhere like Marin County, California, whose schools granted “personal belief exemptions” to 7 percent of kindergartners in 2010—enough to compromise what epidemiologists call herd immunity. Some of these vaccine resisters refuse shots outright, while others opt for alternative vaccination schedules that delay and stagger shots. This increasingly popular system minimizes kids’ exposure to supposedly harmful vaccine ingredients—but it also leaves them more vulnerable to outbreaks.
Yet the vaccine resisters and delayers are not the only parents whose kids miss out on shots. Far more children are undervaccinated for reasons unrelated to personal beliefs, according to a January 2013 study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The study found that an astonishing 49 percent of toddlers born from 2004 through 2008 hadn’t had all their shots by their second birthday, but only about 2 percent had parents who refused to have them vaccinated. They were missing shots for pretty mundane reasons—parents’ work schedules, transportation problems, insurance hiccups. An earlier CDC study concluded that children in poor communities were more likely to miss their shots than those in wealthier neighborhoods, and while that may not be too surprising, it’s still a dangerous pattern. “If you’re going to delay one or two vaccines, it’s not going to make a huge difference,” says the new study’s lead author, Jason Glanz, an epidemiologist at the Kaiser Permanente Colorado Institute for Health Research. “But you could also think of it like this: If a million kids delay their vaccines by a month, that’s time during which a disease could spread.”
That’s no mere hypothetical. In 1990, for example, an outbreak of measles killed 89 kids in the United States—most of them from poor families who said they couldn’t afford the vaccine. A 2008 outbreak in San Diego resulted in 12 cases, this time among kids whose parents had refused the vaccine—but authorities had to quarantine an additional 48 who were too young to be vaccinated. The episode cost taxpayers an estimated $10,376 per case.