Religious Exemptions and the Perpetuation of Ignorance

My wife will occasionally send me emails with subject headings like, “You should write about this!”.  Really they should read, “This is guaranteed to piss you off and make you want to do a war dance in the living room, so start writing early tonight.”

The first part always happens … the second part, not so much. Here’s what did it this time:

New statistics show number of unvaccinated kids increasing

Numbers just released for the 2011-2012 school year reveal more Oregon parents are choosing not to get their children vaccinated for religious reasons. It’s a trend that’s steadily increased over the last 12 years.

Last year, 5.6 percent of kindergartners in the state had a religious exemption for at least one vaccine. That went up .2 percent this school year. State immunization officials say that at 6 percent, the risk for outbreaks gets serious.

In Multnomah County, the exemption rate is past that mark – at 7.6 percent. Curry County has the highest at 12 percent.

I must have started this post half a dozen times, but each time I get so bloody enraged I end up just typing an endless stream of profanity.  As fun as that can be, I suspect readers want something with at least a little more substance. So let’s go over this in parts:

First, more parents than ever are choosing not to get their child vaccinated.  From what, you may ask?  Here’s a list of some of the basics, provided by the Center for Disease Control. By which I mean the people whose job it is to prevent people from getting these things.  They know what they’re talking about.  I have the list of the disease names below; the details are in the PDF file linked above:

Chickenpox Varicella
Haemophilus influenzae type b
Hepatitis A
Hepatitis B
Pneumococcal PCV

They can all cause serious complications.
Over half can cause death.
Almost all are airborne.

And yet … in light of all of the scientific advancements we’ve made to not only understand the underlying cause of these diseases and how they progress, but develop ways to protect ourselves from them … and in some cases wipe them out entirely … some parents are voluntarily keeping their children from this life saving treatment.  Which brings me to the second part:

“… choosing not to get their children vaccinated for religious reasons.

And here we have not the root cause, but the root enabler of the problem.  The root cause is a dangerous combination of ignorance and fear, fueled by the rantings of vacuous morons like Jenny McCarthy, who latched on to the claims that vaccinations are somehow connected to the increased prevalence of autism and refused to let go, despite all of the scientific evidence showing the claim has no merit:

  1. Godlee F, Smith J, Marcovitch H (2011). “Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent”. BMJ 342:c7452: c7452.
  2. Deer B (2011). “How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed”. BMJ 342: c5347. doi:10.1136/bmj.c5347. PMID 21209059.
  3. “Retracted autism study an ‘elaborate fraud,’ British journal finds”. Atlanta: CNN. January 6, 2011. Retrieved January 6, 2011.
  4. Immunization Safety Review Committee, Board on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Institute of Medicine (2004). Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  5. Doja A, Roberts W (2006). “Immunizations and autism: a review of the literature”. Can J Neurol Sci 33 (4): 341–6.

… but the simple fact that the relationship was suggested at all means that anything that refutes this claim has to be part of a conspiracy to silence the truth.  You can’t win.  Anyway the point is that people are always going to fall for stupid ideas and believe them regardless of the overwhelming lack of supporting evidence; that’s human nature.  But to have such adherence to stupid ideas not only excused but given special treatment in our society, all you need to do is say it’s part of your religion.  After that, we almost collectively treat it with a kind of reverence, as if otherwise irrational and silly ideas acquire some special significance by implying a connection with the divine, and therefore we have to be careful not to offend anyone by saying they’re wrong.

Actually, no.  No we don’t.

In fact, in this context, screw religion and the anti-scientific horse it rode in on.  If your beliefs involve refusing to protect your kid against preventable deadly diseases because you are convinced that some imaginary man in the sky has a problem with the idea, you don’t deserve any tolerance, respect, or even the most basic common courtesy.  That kind of mindset is not only a sign that you’ve lost touch with reality, but that you’re hopelessly  indifferent to the degree of public health menace you’re creating.  It’s a danger to your child, it’s a danger to the other children in his or her school, and it’s a danger to everyone else around them.  Herd immunity breaks down as more and more people believe the same unscientific crap you do.

So ignoring public health and being indifferent to contributing to the outbreak of preventable deadly disease is acceptable if it’s part of a religious belief system?  How about smoking in designated non-smoking areas?  Urinating in the local reservoir?  Drunk driving?  Having unprotected sex with an STI?  All of these present a clear danger to public health, either in the long or short term.  Yet we obviously have laws in place to keep this from happening on any regular basis because of the grievous harm it could cause. We desperately need to do the same in this situation.  Freedom of religion does not translate to the freedom to harm others through inaction by rendering one’s self susceptible to diseases that could have been wiped out by now.  I don’t care what you believe; in any rational society, it must come second to public health, including your own.

Oh, one last thing about the article … the state of Oregon doesn’t even go so far as to say that we need a religious exemption.  Here’s my favorite part:

Oregon makes it really easy to opt out of vaccines, though. Parents just sign their name on a form and their kids can still go to school without all their vaccines.

So we don’t even need to play the God card.  All we have to do here is fill out some paperwork and all of a sudden our kid can turn into Patient Zero for a brand new virulent strain of asshole-falling-out syndrome because we’re too stupid to take advantage of modern medicine and the advice of knowledgeable medical professionals.  Here’s one of the scarier graphics about the situation in our state:

I can’t even think of anything funny for this. These kids are in serious danger.

Remember from the beginning of the post:  you only need an unvaccinated population of 6% to have a significant risk of outbreaks.

I’ll be writing more on this, but I worked late and I have to go to bed.  I think this might also explain the vitriol, but I’m like this when I’ve had sleep, too.  There’s more to write about, but that will wait for another day.

This entry was posted in Dr. Bob's House of Crap, Freedom from Religion, Religion and Public Life, The Illogical School and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Religious Exemptions and the Perpetuation of Ignorance

  1. Diff says:

    I don’t really get this idea that God would have an objection to children being injected with dead viruses so their bodies can take advantage of that God-given immune system and they can go on to make more believers. But mostly, I just get pissed off because you have a superstition about your precious snowflake and then someone’s baby who never had a chance to be immunized gets pertussis and DIES.

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