It’s a testament to the utter myopia of healthy, wealthy 21st century America that we think the vaccine issue needs to be relitigated.
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) February 2, 2015
This week was vaccine week in the news. Measles outbreaks in California and Arizona shed light on the trend of anti-vaxxers: parents who intentionally do not have their kids immunized against measles (the actual vaccination is against measles, mumps, and rubella). Today I want to appeal to Christian parents who are in the anti-vaxx crowd. But before getting there, a little history:
Measles is a disease that spreads rapidly, largely decimated the Native American population in the United States, and brought global chaos for centuries. It is not frequently lethal in healthy children who receive medical attention, but because of how painful it is and how quickly it spreads person-to-person, through much of the last 500 years it has been regarded as one of the most dangerous diseases.
But in the 1950’s a Navy pilot and war-hero-turned doctor was able to identify the virus that caused measles. This soon led to a vaccination, likely one of the most impressive feats of the modern world. Not only did the vaccination protect those who received it, but it soon became obvious that there was a societal affect as well. Doctors began to notice “herd-immunity,” which basically means that when over 90% of the population is vaccinated, the disease stops spreading to the point that it dies out. In fact, in 2000 the US Centers for Disease Control declared that measles had been effectively eliminated from the US.
One of the most devastating and feared diseases in the history of the world was defeated by a vaccine—a vaccine that not only protected those who received it, but protected those who were too weak to receive it (such as infants, or those with immune deficiency disorders).
But things didn’t stay that way. A 1998 study claimed that the vaccine that had vanquished the disease was also causing harmful side-effects, such as autism in children. The study was later shown to be a fraud, the doctor had his medical license revoked, and was essentially tarred-and-feathered. But with the onset of the internet age, the fraudulent study spread, and was believed by many who simply didn’t know it had been debunked.
Those who were influenced by the study latched on to two concepts—the concept of herd-immunity, and the concept that the vaccine might be dangerous—and a trend of anti-vaxxers was born. Some refuse to vaccinate their children because they read somewhere on-line that the vaccines are dangerous, and they believed what they read. Others refuse to vaccinate because of the, “hey, there is a controversy, these are my kids, so why risk it” attitude.
And while the consensus in the media is that most of that crowd is liberal, non-religious, Whole-foods-shopping, Prius-driving (and that may be true), I also know many Christians who have joined this crowd. Before I appeal to you to get out, let me quickly say that I get why the anti-vaxx argument appeals to Christians.
It appeals to us because we get this basic fact: much of what passes as science these days is a bowl of lies. We are aware that popular science today makes basic mistakes, has all but discarded the scientific method, and is politically and financially driven. We get that the phrase “most scientists agree” means nothing except that the facts are not in. We understand that if “science agrees” that global warming will be the end of snow forever, and then only a few months later says, “never mind, scientists actually agree that it means MORE SNOW THAN YOU’VE EVER SEEN!!!! (and stop calling it warming, sorry about that)”—its credibility is stretched.
Let me grant that much of modern “science” is politically correct more than verifiably true. But with that said, to put vaccines in the same category as macro-evolution and global warming climate-change is to ignore basic evidence. Measles used to ravage the world, and now it has practically been eliminated because of a vaccine. To deny that is to…well, it is to deny science. With that said, here are four reasons Christians should vaccinate their children:
- Vaccines are a form of common grace that have dramatically changed the world for the better (Gen 3:18; Ps 145:9-16; Matt 5:44-45; Acts 14:16-17). Participating in the blessings of common grace in a post-Babel society means that we bond together as nations, and we use common grace to make quality of life better (Gen 9:6, 2 Kings 12:2, Luke 6:33). We work, we marry, and we protect each other. A basic way to do that is to be vaccinated against diseases that plague the cultures that don’t vaccinate.
- Thus, being vaccinated is a form of loving your neighbor (Lev 19:18; Matt 5:43, Rom 13:8-10, Jas 2:8). Knowing that some are too little, too young, or too weak to be vaccinated, we protect the weak by being vaccinated.
Herd immunity and eradicating disease is a matter of the public good. Life or death. Vaccination is pro-life and pro-neighbor.
— Russell Moore (@drmoore) February 2, 2015
14 babies, too young to get vaccinated, under quarantine after measles hits a Santa Monica child-care center. http://t.co/991y6PlwOh
— Matt Pearce (@mattdpearce) February 4, 2015
- We are not of those who are swayed by internet-rumors that have since been widely discredited (Job 12:20; Prov 13:16). That’s not to say that we blindly believe whatever we hear “science” say. Rather, we have a healthy skepticism, which in this case is satisfied by the universal scientific appeal to the safety of these vaccines (accompanied by the legal mandate to do it in most states). In fact, it discredits our discernment when we believe unsubstantiated and discredited rumors over the obvious fact that measles used to produce terror, and does so no longer.
- Christians are those that take risks for the advancement of the common good. We don’t teach our children “safety first,” but rather, “soli Deo Gloria” first, and everything else follows. Christians used to understand this. The ethics of Jonathan Edwards, who in one of his first acts as Princeton’s President received the Small Pox Vaccine and later died from it, used to be the norm. The wrong moral from Edward’s death is “avoid vaccines.” The right moral is “take calculated risks to better society.”
I recognize that this is a Christian gray-area, and it goes beyond what is written to say that a person is sinning by being an anti-vaxxer. But it does not go beyond what is written to appeal to believer’s discernment: don’t undo one of society’s crowning scientific advancements because of epistemological narcissism.