The Best Way to Stop Anti-Vaccine Parents? Inconvenience Them.

In an effort to combat anti-vax parents two states offer two different school-level interventions, showing that where voluntary programs fail, mandatory inconvenience succeeds.

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A voluntary, state-run vaccination education program in Arizona has been shut down after a backlash from anti-vaccination parents. The program was a response to the growing number of unvaccinated children in the state, which lawmakers rightly feared could spark a statewide epidemic. Officials had hoped to increase vaccination rates by offering a vaccine information class to parents submitting personal vaccine exemption forms to their schools. What they didn’t expect was the explosion of wrath raised by anti-vax parents against the program, which again, was voluntary.

Meanwhile, in the New York State’s Lower Hudson Valley, officials in Rockland County have responded to an outbreak of measles by telling parents to keep unvaccinated children away from school until November 3rd. The demand is meant to keep unvaccinated kids safe, but it also represents a profound inconvenience for parents of unvaccinated children who now have to find two-weeks of childcare and compensate for lost class time.

These two stories may seem largely unrelated, but they suggest a way forward for those states looking to strengthen vaccination rates. The lesson? Stop being nice to anti-vaxxers. Those with extreme (read: incorrect) views on vaccinations have not just inconvenienced other parents, they’ve put herd immunity — and thus even vaccinated children — at risk. If they wish to behave in that manner, it’s their right to do so. But it’s not their right to do so while demanding that others make accommodations for their bad decision making.

The problem with Arizona’s program as it was proposed was the class in question was a gentle nudge. It was voluntary. Consider how strongly a parent has to feel about vaccination in order to leave their kid at risk of deadly disease and you can see why this was a problem. A person who feels vaccines are bad enough to leave their kid exposed, will not likely opt into an information session. This is not a person looking for information. This is a person willing to cling to a belief despite mountains of evidence.

This is why Rockland County’s policy of keeping kids out of school during outbreaks is particularly great. Not only does it work to keep unvaccinated kids safe, but it also ensures parents are very aware that their decisions have consequences. In this case, those consequences are the financial burden of weeks’ worth of childcare and the knowledge that their kids are missing class. For those that think those consequences are too harsh, they simply have to weigh them against, well, a child dying from measles. That’s what you call perspective.

Rockland County’s policy should be a national policy. It makes total sense. The only downside is that it might be too narrow.

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I propose it should apply to the flu vaccine as well. Your kid isn’t vaccinated and doesn’t have a clear excuse like a poultry allergy? You’re keeping them home when flu is ripping through the classroom.

Yeah, that trip to CVS doesn’t look so inconvenient now.