Get with the herd

Mary Mallon didn’t believe that public-health officials could be trusted—after all, governments are corrupt—and she certainly didn’t think scientists were always right or always honest. So, she decided to ignore their recommendations. History remembers her as “Typhoid Mary.”

Readers may think the example of Mallon, the infamous cook who insisted on working in kitchens even after the reality of her status as an asymptomatic typhoid carrier was explained to her by doctors and scientists, is too extreme to draw similarities to today’s anti-vaccination arguments.

They’d be wrong.

The only difference is that today’s science deniers can reinforce each other’s beliefs via the Internet. The underlying problem—the belief that one’s own intellect, hobbled as all personal intellects are by bias, fear and superstition, is superior to the overwhelming aggregate of scientific opinion—is exactly the same.

Mallon didn’t “believe” that germs cause disease. It didn’t make sense to her that something she couldn’t see could make someone sick. It was her right to refuse to wash her hands, and it was the government’s right to refuse to allow her to work as a cook.

Vaccination is every bit as soundly anchored in science as germ theory. The fraudulent paper that connected vaccination to autism has been thoroughly disproven, retracted, and its con-man author has been stripped of his medical license in Great Britain.

The “mercury” that’s supposedly in vaccines, a preservative called thimerosal, is only used for the influenza vaccination, and there are non-preservative versions available. “Herd immunity” is a real thing—which is why two generations of Americans have never seen polio, measles, diphtheria, whooping cough or mumps—and it is endangered by failure to vaccinate.

Wait. Everyone who’s paying attention already knows this, and it hasn’t done any good. We could just wait for an epidemic resurgence of measles or polio—whooping cough is already making a comeback—or we could try something new.

That’s precisely why we wholeheartedly endorse the bill introduced last week by Sacramento-area state Sen. Richard Pan. This bill would remove the “personal belief” exemption altogether and allow vaccinations prior to school enrollment to be mandatory in all cases except those where the objection is specifically religious or related to the child’s health.

Already, Pan’s 2013 legislation, Assembly Bill 2109, which required parents to receive vaccine education from a physician before opting out, has reduced the number of unvaccinated children by 20 percent.

It’s time—especially in light of the ongoing outbreak of whooping cough in the Sacramento area and the current outbreak of measles—to make sure that the only children exempted from vaccinations are those who are too young or sick to be vaccinated or those whose religion forbids it.

We have a responsibility—not just to our own children, but to all children—to see that they have a fighting chance to grow up healthy. This is a clear and inarguable principal. We cannot continue to allow everyone’s health to be endangered by those who would deny reality.