There’s been debate about linking child benefit payments to vaccinations. A move designed to pressure parents into vaccinating their children. It’s a perfectly logical thing to do. Yet it makes me uncomfortable. And I can’t work out if it’s just a remnant of my libertarian days making me paranoid about ‘Big Brother’ or my more progressive self not liking benefits being used as a weapon.
There are some fundamental principles that require unpacking in such a proposal. I won’t look at the science for that is long settled. And there’s nothing that can be said to anti-vaxers to shift them from their nonsensical nonsense. Such nonsense is bone deep, it is an identity, it is the nonsense of a superstition made into a plague of nonsense by social media. A nonsense that would see the return of polio and small pox and call it progress. Fuck them and their nonsense.
But I’m torn. For years, the term ‘herd immunity’ meant little to me beyond an abstraction. A process I understood intellectually but felt no connection to. Then my mother became one of those people described as immuno-compromised. After her, my wife. This means that their immune systems are not robust enough to always be suitable to receive vaccinations and worse, any infection that is doing the rounds will find them, and hit them harder than most.
It means I get the flu-vaccination. Not necessarily because I’m worried I may get the flu, but because if I get the flu chances are my wife and mother will get it. For me it’ll be very unpleasant. For them it may be much worse. They are not relying on just their nearest and dearest, they are relying on their friends, neighbours, the people who serve them in shops and people they share a bus with to also have gotten their vaccinations. The more people vaccinated, the fewer opportunities an airborne pathogen has of finding them. That’s herd immunity.
Childhood vaccinations meant that things like measles had almost disappeared from the Western World. So high were the vaccination rates that those few children who couldn’t receive the vaccination were safe. Protected by the herd immunity created by responsible parents protecting their own children. Then proven fraudster and disgraced former doctor and chief peddler of nonsense Andrew Wakefield claimed there was a link between the MMR vaccination and autism.
Vaccination rates fell off a cliff. Children began to die. But I won’t go into the science of it. The nonsense is bone deep. It is an identity now.
Recently girls in Ireland began receiving the HPV vaccination. This protects girls from most forms of cervical cancer. Initially there was nearly 100% take up. Then reports began to appear of adverse effects. The science is clear but the nonsense is bone deep. Vaccination rates have dropped off of a cliff. Women will die. Those who couldn’t get the vaccination because of prior conditions will not have the protection of herd immunity. Their nonsense is an identity.
But if parents own their children, are they not entitled to endanger their children because of their sincerely held beliefs, no matter how far removed from reality those beliefs are? It’s easy for me to make the assertion that children are held in trust by their parents, but do not own them. It is easy for me to say the State has a responsibility to protect children from the wilful stupidity of their parents. That the State has a responsibility to protect children from the wilful stupidity of other children’s parents.
I don’t have children so I can make assertions about the status of children with ease. But I’m a son and a husband of women who could suffer because this nonsense is afforded a level of respect we don’t grant Jehovah’s Witnesses who will not allow their children receive lifesaving blood transfusions.
I’m also a member of this society and I don’t want this society I inhabit to be further marred by nonsense. I don’t care that this nonsense is sincerely held. I don’t care that this nonsense is now an identity. I don’t care that this nonsense is immune to logic and reason and evidence and reality, I don’t want to suffer because of this dangerous nonsense.
But do I want the State to wield the cudgel of withheld benefits? To coerce the wilfully stupid? To finally embrace its role as guarantor of every child’s welfare? To supplant parents and their sincerely held beliefs? Of course I fucking do. If they can do it with Jehovah’s Witnesses then they can do it with gobshite, middle class, conspiracy theorist, homeopathy believing, nonsense embracing, child endangering, gobshites. And yes, I said gobshites twice, because that is what they are.
The problem of course is that this is a nonsense that mostly infects the middle class (or appears that way at least). Halving their child benefit will only further convince them that they are modern day martyrs, without actually protecting children from their nonsense. It is a nonsense that is bone deep.