Turning the informed consent tables on the anti-vaccine movement

One of the major tactics of the anti-vaccine movement has been a disingenuous demand for more “informed consent.” Of course, their idea of “informed consent” is anything but informed. Indeed, I have referred to it as “misinformed consent,” because what the anti-vaccine movement does is a pathetic parody of the “informed” part of informed consent. The reason is because the anti-vaccine movement exaggerates the risks of vaccination beyond what science supports, and it does it intentionally. Autism, asthma, autoimmune disease, neurodevelopmental disorders, all of these have been blamed on vaccination without any good scientific evidence to support a link between any of these conditions and vaccination. If in fact these conditions were linked with vaccination at anywhere near the rate that the antivaccine movement claims they are, anti-vaccinationists might have a point, but they aren’t and they don’t.

Instead, they frighten parents into thinking that by vaccinating their children they’re playing a game akin to Russian Roulette. Worse, they persuade parents of children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders that they are somehow responsible for their child’s disability. Indeed, sometimes the guilt is palpable in some parents who have come to believe that vaccines cause autism. They really do believe that they are responsible for the plight of their children. That belief is based on misinformation and the attribution of risks to vaccines that are not supported by any good science or convincing evidence, but they really do believe it, and they really suffer because of that belief. Even a clear Plexiglass box of blinking lights like Orac can’t help but be moved, even as he realizes that the source of the guilt these parents feel is not supported by science, but rather by anecdote, confusing correlation with causation, and confirmation bias.

Be that as it may, a common technique of anti-vaccinationists is to demand extreme forms of misinformed consent whereby they demand that pediatricians present parents with various versions of forms to sign or to demand that pediatricians guarantee that there will be no vaccine complications and accept liability if there are, such as this Warranty of Vaccine Safety. Of course, such warranties are nothing more than a ploy to intimidate pediatricians by trying to force them to promise something that can never be guaranteed, namely absolute safety, which is why I like the tack that the legislature in Washington appears to be taking:

Worried by outbreaks of contagious diseases such as measles and whooping cough, public-health officials are supporting a proposal to make it more difficult for parents to avoid school-entry immunization requirements.

The measure under consideration has drawn strong support in both houses of the Legislature and faced little opposition until recently, when vaccine-resisting parents mobilized to pack hearings and lobby lawmakers.

The proposal would require parents who seek exemption from current state law to submit proof that a health provider has informed them of the risks and benefits of immunization.

Currently, parents can sign a form themselves to claim religious, philosophical or personal reasons for refusing to immunize their children before enrolling them in school or day care.

Public-health officials say the bill is needed because immunization rates are falling, parents are receiving sketchy information from the Internet and the state has made it too convenient for them to skip immunization.

Now there’s an idea! Fight fire with fire! If parents want an exemption to allow them to skip vaccinations for their children and thus decrease herd immunity, producing a concomitant increase in the risk of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, then make sure their decision is based on solid, science-based information. If they want to jeopardize others by refusing to vaccinate their children, then make them justify it. As is ointed out in the article, convenience is not an excuse for not vaccinating, and countering misinformation is critical. Personally, I’d go one step further and pass a law that would allow the parents of children who catch a vaccine-preventable disease to sue the parents of an unvaccinated child for damages if they can prove that that their child caught the disease from the unvaccinated child. Of course, the anti-vaccine movement is all for personal responsibility, except when it isn’t, if you know what I mean. Anti-vaccinationists are all for accountability, except when that accountability is directed at them when the consequences of their refusal to vaccinate turns ugly. Then, suddenly, it’s not their fault:

“This bill implies that I am reckless, irresponsible and uninformed, when in fact that is the complete opposite,” bristled Sarah Rowe, a Bainbridge Island mother who attended a Senate committee hearing last week with her 5-year-old daughter, whose neurological disorder was caused by a vaccine, according to Rowe.

Michael Belkin, also from Bainbridge, told the committee that as a statistics-savvy financial analyst, he doesn’t want to listen to “some doctor’s propaganda.”

To Sarah Rowe, I’d say: Yes, you are reckless, irresponsible, and misinformed. In fact, if you and parents like you weren’t reckless, irresponsible, and misinformed, a bill like this wouldn’t be necessary. But you are, and it is. Ditto Michael Belkin. Perhaps you remember Michael Belkin? I do. Michael Belkin is the execrable musician who penned such mind-meltingly bad songs such as “Vaccine Gestapo” and “Get Your Mandates Out of My Body.” Bad music, bad science, Belkin’s got it all, all wrapped up into a mind-meltingly stupid songs that even Andrew Wakefield looked uncomfortable singing along with.

Here’s hoping this bill passes, although I’m not optimistic. The reason I’m not so optimistic is because Washington already has one of the highest rate of vaccine exemptions in the country and, more importantly, because the anti-vaccine movement has gotten wind of it:

Ezra Eickmeyer, representing the National Vaccine Information Center, an anti-vaccine group, noted a 2001 survey in which 23 percent of pediatricians said they “always” or “sometimes” tell vaccine-refusing parents they no longer can be the child’s doctor.

Eickmeyer says that as though it were a bad thing. At least the journalist accurately described the NVIC as an “anti-vaccine” group. All too often it manages to get a pass, being described as a “vaccine safety” group or a “vaccine safety watchdog” when it is nothing of the sort.

Personally, I like the idea behind the law being proposed. If anti-vaccinationists are going to weaken herd immunity and endanger the children of others through their misinformed, pseudoscience-informed beliefs, then the least society should do is to make them jump through a few more hoops in order to claim their precious vaccine exemptions.