“Wait a minute,” your friend said. “Didn’t mom say she wants to vaccinate her kids? Isn’t it already mandatory that kids get vaccinated?”
No it isn’t.
Reema, the one who set you up with her friend, with whom you and your friends share the same doctor, has opted out of vaccines for her children. This does not mean she is going to Disneyland. It doesn’t mean her kids are developing asthma, and it doesn’t mean they are becoming one of the 28 percent of kids under the age of 18 who go without any vaccine at all. But this does not mean she believes in vaccinating her children. She does not want the drugs “made in a machine that performs a God-like act on the body,” or the “babies are goo[e] and they’re just treated like s[pecial] assholes.” She also believes in “the conspiracies people have, like government involvement in vaccines.”
Reema is not alone. More and more parents are opting out of vaccinations, particularly for vaccinations against meningitis, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, hepatitis A, and chickenpox. This year, vaccines have been cited as a significant cause of preventable, severe or serious diseases that had been declining for years. In response, the Trump administration has announced that parents will no longer have to opt out of vaccinations for at least one of the nine children on their birth certificates in order to attend school or daycare.
Reema is the result of a fractured vaccinology system that, among many other fault lines, has a large contingent of those who, for political reasons, feel that children who get vaccinated must be “sacrificed” so that those who don’t, and because they “receive their shot last,” may get them freebies.
“There’s a definite possibility that diseases are much more likely to recur because of this problem,” Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer at eHealth, told Stat.
But you should, with reasonable doubt, take your friends’ skepticism seriously. A report found that parents who had opted out of their children’s vaccines were 42 percent more likely to not vaccinate their own children, and 21 percent more likely to refuse to vaccinate other children. Another, conducted by the Mayo Clinic and Ohio State University College of Medicine, discovered that 7 percent of those parents had done so because they didn’t like vaccines, which is the most common answer.
One of the biggest remaining reasons parents remain reluctant to vaccinate their children, as with any other decision involving their bodies, is money. Studies have shown that the decision to have children vaccinated can cost up to $5,000. And there are other, yet-to-be-determined, factors that can make sure that these personal beliefs don’t drive a decision to stop vaccinating.
“Parents should remember that…intentionally preventing people from getting the shots—unintentionally or consciously—makes matters worse, not better,” says Eli Noam, a pediatrician and the director of Vanderbilt Children’s Center for Health Care Innovation.
Noam says the hardest things to persuade parents to do with fear are the things that they don’t like, like the injections.
“We’re not going to make a patient more afraid about a shot with strong flavors and colors than a shot that she thinks is strong and tastes like hot dog,” he says. “I always want to go the extra mile, if possible, and try to remind them of the medically sound reasons for the shots—all of which are stronger than anything that we do…[This] happens both with kids and adults.”
However you approach the conversations with your friends, bring as much water as possible. Because as you and your friends see it, your friends don’t like vaccines. And in the words of the doctor, “That’s not a good look.”