The silence is deafening, and lethal

It’s hard to believe that it has been four years since the last widespread scare about vaccinations. In 2015, so much controllable disease was spreading that we reported, “From Vermont to California, state legislators are considering measures to deal with the failure of a minority of parents to have their children vaccinated.”

Whooping cough, which can kill, had declined for years until there were only a couple of dozen cases each year. Then it burst out again, with 22 cases in Nevada alone.

We need to be clear. On a planet where population has exploded, there is no right to spread disease—and failing to vaccinate in a crowded society is spreading disease. The fate of any one of us is engaged with the fate of all of us, and herd immunity protects us all—even those irresponsible ones who want to be endangered and want their children unprotected.

There have been several reports about well-informed children trying to learn how to get around their superstitious or ideological or ignorant parents to get themselves vaccinated.

“At the time I was born, both of my parents agreed on anti-vaccination,” an 18 year old told NBC News. “Almost a year and a half ago, I moved out of my mother’s house and in with my dad. My dad has a pretty neutral view on vaccinations, but when I was born he essentially just agreed with my mom and her family’s beliefs.”

One big problem is that the noisy, tiny minority is controlling the debate and setting the agenda because others will not speak up. We are familiar with this syndrome—people write letters to the editor mostly to be against something, rarely to be for something. Satisfied people don’t speak up. That’s no longer good enough. People are dying of silence.

“The small amount that don’t believe in [vaccination] are very vocal, while most parents who are vaccinating don’t speak up,” Immunize Nevada director Heidi Parker said four years ago. “It’s important for those parents to speak up and show their support for vaccinating. We need those positive voices.”

Parents who do not speak up on the dangers of not vaccinating are a public health threat. Those who went through the 1950s and were saved from polio by the Salk and Sabin vaccines had an experience the newer public needs to hear and read about. And scientists need to get over their reluctance to be public figures.

There is no scientific case to be made against vaccination. What case is often given is a hodgepodge of myths and bad information endlessly repeated within enclaves. And yet politicians keep listening to those who peddle that nonsense because they are the loudest voices out there.

Right now, the greatest threat is from measles—but mumps and rubella are next in line. Children cannot be subjected to such dangers based on nonsensical blather produced by echo chambers and professional troublemakers. It’s time to speak up.