PUBLIC HEALTH WARNING….The New York Times reports on the latest hot new trend in California: refusing to vaccinate your children. The result, unsurprisingly, is more sick kids, like the “highly unusual” outbreak of measles in San Diego recently:

The parents who objected to their children being inoculated are among a small but growing number of vaccine skeptics in California and other states who take advantage of exemptions to laws requiring vaccinations for school-age children.

….Measles, almost wholly eradicated in the United States through vaccines, can cause pneumonia and brain swelling, which in rare cases can lead to death. The measles outbreak here alarmed public health officials, sickened babies and sent one child to the hospital.

Every state allows medical exemptions, and most permit exemptions based on religious practices. But an increasing number of the vaccine skeptics belong to a different group — those who object to the inoculations because of their personal beliefs, often related to an unproven notion that vaccines are linked to autism and other disorders.

Italics mine. Someone asked me a while back why I wasn’t Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s biggest fan, and this is (part of) the reason. His reckless demagoging about thimerosal and autism was and is actively dangerous. Ditto for John McCain’s ignorant burbling on the subject a few weeks ago. They should both be ashamed of themselves.

In the end, this particular blend of conspiracy theorizing and New Age ditziness probably won’t attract enough support to be too big a deal. But inchoate fear is a strong emotion, especially when threats to children are involved. The people who feed this fear are playing with fire.