In response to a post by Megan McArdle on frustrations in the search for a cancer cure, someone replied right on cue:
Why should we expect a cure for cancer? It would hurt the profits of the drug companies. What would happen to the drug companies after the cure was found?
This is a stance that I have never found very credible (my stance has actually hardened since writing that). Fortunately, there was a swath of comments in response shooting the theory down before I could even comment myself. Even so, I couldn’t resist piling on, so I wrote:
Absolutely. It’s like vaccines. No drug company would ever come up with a vaccine because imagine how much more money they could make treating smallpox or rubella or whatever. They could charge desperate parents with sick kids thousands upon thousands of dollars for treatments. A vaccine would just cut into profits. That’s why drug companies don’t make vaccines.
Speaking of vaccines, there’s another article about whooping cough breakouts:
California is in the midst of its worst outbreak of whooping cough in a half-century. More than 2,700 cases have been reported so far this year — eight times last year’s number at this point. Seven of the victims, all infants, have died.
And here’s what really worries pediatricians like USC’s Harvey Karp: Doctors thought they wiped out whooping cough when they developed vaccines decades ago.
The disease hits young children hardest, especially ones who are not vaccinated or who have not yet built up full immunity. The prescribed vaccination regimen begins with a shot at two months and continues until children are 5 years old. For many children, it can take that long for complete immunity to develop — and until then, they’re vulnerable.
The California epidemic has raised plenty of questions about the role of vaccination and the increasing numbers of parents who decide not to vaccinate their children. California’s Department of Public Health cites three schools in the state where 80 percent of parents have signed a “personal belief exemption” to keep their children from being vaccinated.
I bolded the part about infants because it belies the notion that vaccination is a “personal choice” and that those who would condemn parents that don’t vaccinate are being judgmental when it’s none of their business. These parents are not just putting their own children at risk, but also infants that are too young to have the vaccine themselves. Infants that don’t already have fully developed immune systems. I am on the border as to a parent’s moral right to put their young child at such risk (always a complicated topic and usually dependent on the level of risk), but I have far less patience for those that use others’ children at risk.
Whether we should legally allow parents to take a pass on shots is a somewhat complicated topic. I do believe in religious freedom enough that I am disinclined not to have an exemption process of some sort. But 80%? That’s simply horrifying. And whether what these parents are doing should be legal or not, they are quite deserving of judgment and I have no fear of being considered judgmental on this topic. It’s not a personal health decision so much as a social health one and I am a member in the society in which these people live.