Author’s Note: I’m the father of three children under the age of 5. I’m also a Christian Conservative who leans libertarian. I bring this up because, like many Americans, I find this topic to be a difficult one. People are torn. It’s a battle of the safety of children vs. the right of parents to decide how to keep their children safe. I hope that this article touches on the debate in a way that captures the troubles we face as a free society… and a society that, I like to believe, protects our children… and doesn’t put our officers in a position that violates THEIR consciences or those of parents.
So my wife and I are sitting in a hospital room, where we just welcomed our third child into the world.
On the television is an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. In it, there’s a case built around the anti-vaccination debate.
In the episode, a toddler turns up dead. We find out measles took her life, and that she was infected by an unvaccinated boy. It turns out his mother refused to vaccinate her son for religious reasons, prompting the mother of the dead girl to sue that woman for the death of her daughter.
The anti-vaxxer is charged with murder, but ultimately is found to be not guilty because she hasn’t broken any laws.
The storyline seems far-fetched… but is it?
Measles, among other diseases, is making a strong resurgence in America thanks to a rising number of people who refuse to vaccinate their children.
Measles is perhaps the most infectious human disease in the world. The virus can remain in the air for up to two hours after an infected person leaves.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), before widespread vaccination began in 1980, 2.6 million people a year died from measles… and 400 people a day still do.
Prohibitionist John Fince once said:
“Your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.” Some argue that for infectious diseases, we could reformulate that to: “Your right to be sick ends where my right to be healthy begins.”
Some make the argument that anti-vaxxers are like smokers. Second hand smoke negatively impacts the health of those who don’t smoke, and they argue that regulations and laws surrounding vaccinations should follow the path of the tobacco regulations.
And with that… we end up on the slippery slope of potential government overreach and big tech censorship.
The Internet and Vaccines
We found out last month that the big social media platforms are getting involved.
YouTube has announced it’s removing ads – or demonetizing – all videos containing anti-vaccine content.
“We have strict policies that govern what videos we allow ads to appear on, and videos that promote anti-vaccination content are a violation of those policies,” a YouTube spokesperson said. “We enforce these policies vigorously, and if we find a video that violates them, we immediately take action and remove ads.”
YouTube says they made the decision, which impacts associated accounts like the popular anti-vax channels VAXXED TV and Larry Cook 333, after a number of advertisers complained they weren’t aware that their ads were running on videos that YouTube deems to have “dangerous and harmful” content.
One of those advertisers is Grammarly, who told media outlets:
“Upon learning of this, we immediately contacted YouTube to pull our ads from appearing not only on this channel but also to ensure related content that promulgates conspiracy theories is completely excluded.”
YouTube has also said it’s going to be making changes to its algorithm so that anti-vaccination videos don’t appear in its “Up Next” feature, which recommends related videos to viewers.
Pinterest has also said it’s blocking all anti-vaccine search results and bans pins from related websites.
Representative Adam Schiff recently sent a letter to Facebook and Google demanding they crack down on anti-vaccine content, calling it “misinformation”.
He said it would “discourage parents from vaccinating their children, a direct threat to public health, and reversing progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases.”
Facebook has said it’s taking “steps to reduce the distribution of health-related misinformation on Facebook, but we know that we have more to do.” An unnamed Facebook representative recently told CNN that the social giant is “working with health experts to decide what changes to make and considering a combination of approaches to handle vaccine misinformation.”
That representative said it wouldn’t take the info off Facebook, but it would make it less prominent, such as making sure groups that promote vaccine misinformation don’t show up on the list of groups that Facebook recommends users join… and ensuring that posts containing vaccine “misinformation” appear farther down in a user’s newsfeed. The platform is also said to be considering changes to its advertising policy.
Law Enforcement and Anti-Vaxx
That’s social media. But what about life off the internet? Will there be legal ramifications that could land people behind bars?
It’s already happening.
A Michigan mom was sentenced to seven days in jail after she refused a judge’s order to have her son vaccinated.
Here’s what happened. Rebecca Bredow initially agreed with the father to let her nine-year-old be immunized.
In Michigan, parents can skip or delay their children’s vaccinations due to personal beliefs. But when she backed out on agreements with her former spouse dating back to November 2016 to have the boy immunized, the mother-of-two was told by a judge to comply.
She and her ex had decided at the time of their child’s birth they would space out and delay vaccines. They separated in 2008, but shared parental custody and dad still wanted the boy vaccinated.
Even though Bredow was the primary caregiver, Oakland County Court Judge Karen McDonald said” Dad gets a say.”
Bredow argued in court:
“I am an educated vaccine-choice mother.”
She went on to argue that immunization “goes against my beliefs”, adding:
“I would rather sit behind bars standing up for what I believe in, than giving in to something I strongly don’t believe in”.
The judge gave Bredow her wish and held her in contempt of court, sentencing her to seven days behind bars.
While the federal government doesn’t legislate immunization, they do issue recommendations that leave requirements to states or local school districts.
But if a parent doesn’t comply with those guidelines, and a child isn’t permitted to attend school, the parent can be jailed for the kid’s truancy if they aren’t being homeschooled.
The state of Connecticut made headlines this month with proposed new legislation that could actually eliminate a religious exemption requiring parents to vaccinate children in order for them to go to public schools.
It’s ignited a fiery debate. Connecticut lawmakers seem to be strongly moving in support of the bill, while some argue it’s an infringement:
“In fact I’d have [the religious exemption] provision expanded,” says 90th District State Representative, Craig Fishbein. “Give parents more rights to do what they feel is appropriate for their children… [I]f government guaranteed that they were safe or something like that it would be a totally different situation, but our children are very important to us and its our choice whether or not to go down that path.”
Some argue that eliminating the religious exemption is a clear violation of the wall between church and state, and not only a government overreach, but a clear Constitutional infringement.
Others say it’s what needs to be done to protect children who are under the age of one and do not yet have their immunizations, along with kids who can’t be immunized because of compromised immune systems.
No Extracurricular Activities and No School Allowed
Just this month, a Kentucky family filed a lawsuit against their county health department over a dispute about the chickenpox vaccine.
Bill Kunkel says the health department is discriminating against his unvaccinated son, who goes to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart / Assumption Academy in Walton, Kentucky.
The school reported a total of 32 cases of chickenpox earlier this week.
As a result, the health department said all unvaccinated kids had to stay home and couldn’t participate in extra-curricular activities.
Kunkel’s son, Jerome, is an unvaccinated senior there. He plays on the basketball team and was told he couldn’t play in any sports until 21 days after the onset of the rash for the last sickened student or staff member. He said it’s “devastating”, which is what lead his parents to sue for discriminating against their religious beliefs.
“The fact that I can’t finish my senior year in basketball, like, our last couple of games, it’s pretty devastating. I mean, you go through four years of high school playing basketball you look forward to your senior year.”
When Do You Become A Felon?
It’s highly plausible to imagine a scenario where children who aren’t immunized are completely kept out of schools, based on this proposed legislation. And if that happens and they are homeschooled, will they be kept out of school or city extra-curricular activities as well?
And if that happens… what is the legal breaking point? Who is in violation of the regulations or the law – the student or the parent?
Will family members be arrested if they walk into the school? In Connecticut, you can’t carry a firearm into a school – even if you’re an off-duty police officer. You become a felon if you do.
But what if you carry an unvaccinated body into the school in violation of the law? The way the legislation is being talked about, that unvaccinated person poses more of a risk than that firearm. Will that turn them into a felon?
What happens when police officers are told they need to arrest kids and their parents for attending a basketball game at the school? Going to graduation?
And where does it end?
Who will enforce it? Who will comply? And what exactly is the end game?
It’s a debate that’s clearly just getting started.