Why I can’t “win” the vaccine argument

Because there are people out there who think this is a good idea:

You’ve probably heard of “chickenpox parties,” where parents get unvaccinated kids together (in the home of an infected child) in the hopes they’ll catch the disease. They think making their kids suffer through the disease will help them develop stronger immunity than immunization would provide.

But now the buzz is all about people shipping objects that have been contaminated with the chickenpox virus to people who live too far away to attend a pox party.

A Nashville TV station Thursday reported on a local woman who charged $50 a pop to ship suckers smothered in saliva by her sick kids.

Orac at Respectful Insolence has already written a great post about the epic stupidity (on so, so many levels) of this little scheme, and I don’t want to reinvent the wheel by repeating the same points.  Suffice it to say that it’s a really, really bad idea.

No, what strikes me about this is how clearly it renders the losing battle we face when we confront anti-vaccine zealots.  These people would rather pay fifty bucks for a fruit-flavored petri dish on a stick, inoculated in a stranger’s mouth with God only knows what flora and then allowed to incubate during shipping before giving it to their unwitting kids to suck on, rather than give their kids a vaccine that has been clearly demonstrated to be safe and effective.  I could reanimate the corpses of Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister and Jonas Salk to explain in minute detail why vaccines are safe and effective, and these people would carry on with their moronic plans.  After innumerable studies (and a certain very significant retraction), what more can big, mean ol’ science have to say that these cretins will believe?

Nada, of course.  Which is why I am so happy to be in a practice that doesn’t accept vaccine refusers.  If you won’t let me administer something so foundational to pediatrics, so deeply set in the standards of care, then how can we possibly build a good physician-patient/parent relationship?  We can’t.  You won’t be happy with me, and I certainly won’t be happy with you.  Best we just recognize that, and move on.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. This is something that was done in the Great Brain books.

    Well, not the lollipops. The “we should force our kids to get the disease that the other ones get by forcefully infecting them” thing.

    Hey, if it was good enough for 1896…

    • I remember that one! But that was actually sensible: they’re all going to get it eventually, so let’s get it over with.

      • There’s very much a prejudice, for some reason I can’t fathom, for “Natural” stuff. (Well, this year, anyway. God knows, next year we may go back to “Through The Wonders Of Modern Science!” prejudice.) This leads to such things as “organic bottled water”. (Ew.)

        And, of course, the biggest groups of folks who support such things are the biggest groups of folks who eschew birth control in general.

        They will always outnumber us.

      • They were still doing it in 1941; or rather, they were still hoping to get it over with in 1941.

        One of the letters I read while I was going through my front page post noted that mumps was going through the school, and “I hope Beatrice gets it”.

  2. If their hapless little plague pups only took themselves down when one of the old bads hit ’em I’d say screw ’em and let Darwin sort them out. Unfortunately there are people who through no fault of their own (allergy to the vaccines for instance) need to depend on the herd immunity of the population for protection. Due to that I don’t see why vaccines shouldn’t be mandated and mandatory. This is a huge commons issue and one of the signature achievements of modern medicine.

  3. First, I should say I support mandatory vaccination for most of the major diseases I can think of (or non-mandatory vaccination if such would lead to as near as possible universal vaccination and herd immunity).

    Second, however, I admit to being weary of the chicken pox vaccine. It is probably almost entirely (or even maybe completely) irrational. Perhaps because when I grew up (I’m 38 now), there was no chicken pox vaccine (or it wasn’t widely distributed), and I got it the old fashioned way (not the new fashioned way of going to a “chicken pox party”) at the age of 6 or so.

    • We were wary of it too — it was just released when our kids were small, and at that point no one could definitively say that it was as permanent a fix as actually having the disease. Our son had already had it as an infant (I got it from him — a very unpleasant experience for an adult), so it was just our daughter that we had to decide for.

      But I can’t properly finish this story, because I don’t remember anymore whether we ended up vaccinating her or if she came down with it later. I know we didn’t rush into it.

  4. I believe several sage men put together a very insightful little explication of this type of problem- call it ‘The Black Knight Problem’ (

    In essence, Occam’s Razor is sort of subverted when all evidence requires someone to give up a deeply held belief and they keep trying to go around the evidence and back to that belief, whatever crazy things they have to say to hold onto it.

    For vaccinations, perhaps it’s revulsion at artificial things, or deep resentment/suspicion of any government program.But once they commit to that nothing they see or hear will change their minds.

    It becomes a child’s game of
    ‘I shot you’
    ‘No, I dodged’
    ‘After you dodged I came right up and got you’
    ‘Nope I had invisible shields’
    ‘Your shield didn’t work because I used my shield interruptor ray before shooting!’
    ad nauseum.
    In the end, you cannot hope to convince them, all you can do is decide to move on and leave them behind. In the case of vaccinations it’s a real problem because it’s not just a silly game but the actual health of children who don’t actually get a say in the matter.

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