Anti-Vax Parents Should Be Wary of the State’s Compelling Interest in Their Kids’ Education

If anything proves that stubborn, anti-science recalcitrance isn’t just the province of conservatives, it’s the debate over vaccination. A coalition of far left and far right libertarians, conspiracy theorists and superstitious extremists have joined forces to upend what was once a settled issue, refusing vaccinations to their children on a large enough scale to imperil public health and weaken herd immunity.

After a number of high profile incidences of the return of easily preventable childhood diseases, members of the California legislature had the wisdom to advance a bill eliminating (in most cases) the personal belief exemption for vaccinations. One of the intents of the legislation was to protect children at school from diseases transmitted by unvaccinated classmates.

Unfortunately, rather than do the right thing and vaccinate their kids, anti-vax parents are using their children as hostages, complaining that their children’s right to an education is being imperiled if they cannot attend public school and the parents are unwilling to homeschool. Those concerns have won the day long enough to stall the bill in committee while legislators try to figure out how to square the education circle.

Ultimately, the stand of the anti-vax parents is deeply unethical and harmful both to their own and to other children. Vaccines have been conclusively proven to be safe and effective, and parents of responsibly vaccinated children have a right not to have their own kids exposed to measles and other terrible diseases without being imperiled by other irresponsible parents.

If the children of anti-vaxxers do have an inalienable right to an education, and anti-vaxxer parents insist on refusing to vaccinate, it’s hard to argue that the parents are doing anything other than abusing their children and exposing their own and other children to unacceptable risk. Using the state’s interest in protecting and educating their children can cut multiple ways, including in ones that anti-vax parents would certainly not like.

What is absolutely unacceptable is to continue to endanger other children at public schools on account of their irresponsible behavior.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.