Thursday, May 14, 2015

We Are Not Cattle

Talking about vaccines is like walking across a floor covered in syringes and hoping you don't get poked. No matter what you say, you're bound to offend someone and feel their sting. It's a touchy subject with advocates on both sides of the debate screaming loudly over their counterparts on the other. As a parent of a 10-month old little boy (the cutest little boy God ever created, by the way), I've been doing my research and learning everything I can about vaccines.

That's why I was excited when I heard that Christianity Today had used this month's issue to tackle the subject. Perhaps they would include compelling arguments from thoughtful Christians in the various camps, or maybe they would take space to discuss the need for civility in the debate. Or, hope upon hope, they might point to a third way, past all the arguments.

Instead, I found the cover headline: "For the Love: Why we of all people should get our vaccines." And when I opened up the magazine, I found an article entitled, "Why I Still Vaccinate," written by Matthew Loftus, a medical doctor who nearly died from an adverse reaction to a vaccine yet argues vehemently that, for Christians, there really is no debate left to be had.

*sigh*

Unfortunately, there is nothing new in Loftus' article. It's the same old argument from the pro-vaccine camp: Vaccines prevent horrible and deadly diseases, and they only work if most of us get them (the herd immunity deal). Added to the party line was a new Christian spin: Vaccines are really about loving our neighbors, so Jesus would have us get them and give them to our children.

I find little to commend in Loftus' approach to applied ethics. Medical knowledge and the experience of nearly dying from a vaccination may make him a somewhat bulletproof advocate for the vaccine industry, but they do not make his arguments biblical.

The herd-immunity concept is not justifiable, though it is aptly named. If children were cattle, then it would make sense to sacrifice a small percentage for the good of the herd. (Vaccines irreparably harm some kids. If they did not, the U.S. government would not have a special vaccine court to compensate the families of such children, since it is illegal to sue a vaccine manufacturer.) But each child has been created in the image of God, and we are not free to play Russian roulette with any of them—certainly not our own. Our children are our neighbors too. Shouldn't we love them enough to keep them out of harm's way when we can?

This is where parents must make a tough decision. Each family must decide whether the vaccines are worth the risk, whether they think their children will fare better with the CDC's schedule, an alternate, or none at all. Many factors must be considered: Will the child be in daycare? Will they be breastfed, giving them the ability to build natural immunities? Is there a family history of disabilities that may be linked to vaccines? Parents should read the studies, listen to the stories, watch the documentaries, and talk with their doctors—but ultimately moms and dads will have to decide what's best for their children.

Our communities and our nation are strongest when our families are strong. But the herd immunity idea puts the community above the family and, in doing so, actually weakens both. In the end, more information is needed, more unbiased studies are warranted, and the conflicts of interest between the government and big business need to be broken apart so decisions can be made with good information.

Jesus isn't commanding you to vaccinate your kids. He's commanding you to love them right alongside your other neighbors. How you do that is still up for debate. But Christianity Today isn't doing us any favors by staying safe and only publishing one side—the politically correct side—of the story.

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