I’m a pretty laid-back parent about most things. My kids eat dirt, play with (plastic) knives, and spend a lot of time on the counter helping me cook. I rarely think to warn others when they have colds (I’m trying to remember!), because I would never expect the same. Colds are a part of life, and will probably help them in the long run, as frustrating as they are now. My kids run around, make messes, get sick, get better, and generally (I hope) have a lot of fun. (It’s not always fun for me, especially the mess part.)
But yesterday I did something totally not laid back, and to date, totally out of character. I e-mailed the director of their daycare to check on the vaccination policy, essentially to make sure that it required all the kids to be current in their vaccines (with exceptions for medical or religious issues.) My girls, who actually attend the daycare, are totally up to date, and I’m not worried about them. But there’s a little guy as well, not quite 1, and not quite ready for the MMR vaccine, and he comes with me most days to drop off his sisters. And he’s swarmed by all the adorable preschoolers who just love little guys and want to love him with their hugs and kisses, which, usually, he loves. And there is a measles outbreak a couple of states over and a couple of little ones (also not quite 1 and also not quite ready) are really, really sick.
I don’t want my little guy to get really, really sick, and the thing is that he could. He easily could right now, as the number of unvaccinated children is growing and growing. If one of them was carrying the disease (possibly without showing symptoms) and came into contact with my vulnerable little guy, that could very easily be it for him. Too easily. This time, it wouldn’t be an annoying and even deeply frustrating cold, or fever, or even something worse that would be rough for a while but he would ultimately recover from without any lingering effects. Not necessarily. Measles, for some kids, are really really bad.
Now, the wonderful director of my daycare responded right away and assured me of their strict policy, and let me know that, given the recent outbreak, she’s been double-checking the records herself. A quick perusal of our pediatrician’s website showed an equally strict policy, so I don’t have to worry when I take the guy in for his next appointment. So I feel better about drop-off, and won’t be wrapping him up and keeping him out of reach.
The truth though, is that I’m pretty angry. I’m pretty angry on behalf of those parents in New York whose kids are now suffering, and I’m angry on behalf of that subset of now sick kids whose parents chose not to vaccinate them. They were safe until now because of all those who did vaccinate, which is a good, good thing, but it shouldn’t have come to this point for folks to realize the stakes for not vaccinating. I’m angry, and I am, frankly, scared. It can, and probably will, get worse. And this was avoidable.
I don’t want to get into a discussion of the risks of vaccination for those who don’t have particular medical conditions. I do want to say, loudly and clearly, that whatever those risks might be, they are dwarfed by the risks–to the kids in question, and to the world–of not vaccinating. And that is perhaps the crux of the issue; the risks posed are not just to the non-vaccinated kids. If they were, perhaps it would be a question of personal parenting choice. (Perhaps, or perhaps not; we do, after all, have laws requiring car seats for kids, and prohibiting serving alcohol to minors or selling them cigarettes). But it isn’t a personal issue. It’s a global one.
Jewish tradition teaches us that we are all responsible for one another. Vaccination can only be read as a realization of that commandment. It’s our responsibility to keep each other safe, and to keep each other healthy. It’s our responsibility to vaccinate–socially, ethically, medically, and yes: Jewishly. If you choose to abnegate that responsibility, please keep your children away from my infant, and from all infants, and from all immunocompromised people, until this scare is over. Which, unfortunately, it may never be.