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But the larger and more interesting group to discuss is the significant portion of American parents who say they believe in vaccines but just don’t want them for their children — or don’t want all the vaccines that experts insist are safest and most efficacious.As much as 20 to 25 percent of American parents fall into this latter group, and they arguably pose the greatest threat to herd immunity.I believe their decisions are less about how informed they are and more about the culture of what I term individualist parenting — one that insists parents are personally responsible for their own children, but not other children.
When we hear someone is sick, our first question is often, “What did they do, or fail to do, that led to illness?
” These questions ignore how the majority of illness is beyond individual control and reduce health promotion to a series of consumption decisions.
I’m a sociologist who aims to understand how parents make choices for their families and children, and compiled almost a decade of research into my book .
Katie, like many of the mothers I spoke with, agonizes over how to make sure her kids are healthy, happy, and able to succeed in what seems an increasingly dangerous, competitive, and uncertain world. Vaccines, these parents tell me, do not always protect children.
As a mother of three vaccinated children and the granddaughter of a woman who lived her life with a limp that resulted from polio, I too wonder this.
And while it is easy to dismiss these parents as anti-science, selfish, ignorant, or delusional, the answer is much more complicated. Although I spoke with fathers and mothers in my research, it became clear that health care decisions tend to be maternal terrain.Second, there’s a small number of people who will never believe vaccines work and will never be persuaded to accept them, and I spoke to some of them.This is the group we tend to conflate with the entire world of people who don’t vaccinate.Choosing schools, traveling soccer teams, or SAT tutors promises to increase some children’s opportunities for success.Yet when parents choose to send their kids to private schools or competitive public schools, they implicitly accept that it is fine that other children don’t have safe or adequately resourced schools — as long as it’s not their own kids.She visited 15 preschools before she found one she thought would work for him, a place where teachers would understand his passion for space but also his difficulties reading social cues or transitioning between activities.She meticulously manages his diet due to his extensive food allergies and eczema.For the past two decades, we have increasingly prioritized individual behaviors and choices as the key to good health.Experts recommend people count their calories, steps, pounds, or servings of vegetables as a path to disease prevention.With 60 new cases in the past week, we can expect the outbreak will continue to spread.There is no disagreement that vaccine refusal is the cause of outbreaks.