“The only thing flatter than the earth is an unvaccinated kid’s EKG.” So read the t-shirt of a young man I know. Oh these kids and their crazy shirts!
Over the last several weeks, I have been treated to groups in two of my Composition II classes leading discussions on the issue of the anti-vaccination movement. I didn’t assign the topic. Instead, two different groups in completely separate classes came to it on their own, presenting on it a week apart.
Since that came up, it seems as if the topic, especially as connected with the recent measles outbreak, has been breaking out everywhere. Just today, I saw an article showing that this year’s measles numbers are the highest since the disease was considered eliminated back in 2000.
I could take this topic and run with it in the direction of the hubris of science in declaring a disease eliminated. Instead, I’d like to consider the question of whether a Christian can, in good conscience, be numbered among the anti-vax forces.
Several years ago Justin Smith, a pediatrician, wrote a pro-vaccination article for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. In that piece, he presented three reasons why parents should vaccinate their kids. Number two caught my eye: Christians should vaccinate because we love our neighbors.
In this situation, we need to remember that we are our brother’s keeper (Gen 4:9). Choosing not to vaccinate and to hide in the herd of everyone else who is puts others unnecessarily at risk and, as we have seen these past few weeks, does not work. Vaccination is pro-life and pro-neighbor because it serves the public good.
The Christian Science movement, now mostly a quaint relic on the scrap heap of religious history, famously rejected most medical treatment, opting instead for prayer and positive thinking. Certainly the Christian Science adherents reached their skepticism toward medical treatment from a different direction than do modern anti-vaxxers, but the result is largely the same.
Is it possible that vaccinations hurt people? Yes. In fact, it is pretty well established that some people are hurt by vaccinations just as some people are injured by automobile seat belts. The statistics, though, make it clear that the dangers of vaccinations and seatbelts are negligible compared to the benefits. That, of course, is small comfort if your kid happens to get sick as the result of a vaccination, but where is the comfort to the unvaccinated person who dies from measles?
Christians take enough grief these days as science deniers, homophobes, haters, and purveyors of intolerance. We need a better rationale than the unfounded opinions of a few Internet pundits to add to our list of pariah qualifications.