How to Handle Parents Who Are Anti-Vaxx

Photo: frankieleon via Flickr

As I’ve noted before, parents who are against vaccinating their kids not only put their own children at risk, they put other kids at risk as well. My back-of-the-envelope estimate is that this risk can approach that imposed by drunk drivers, suggesting that it’s in the public’s interest to consider eliminating the “philosophical” exemption that some schools allow.

The Liberal Party in Ontario, Canada is pursuing a slightly different approach: they want to make science education for parents a prerequisite for obtaining a vaccination exemption on philosophical grounds. In a statement, Dr. Eric Hoskens, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care noted,

If passed, the proposed amendments to the Immunization of School Pupils Act would help parents and guardians make informed decisions about vaccination.

This approach seems reasonable, but only if the anti-vaccination stance reflects a poor grip on the science and if that misunderstanding can be changed through education.

One adjustment to the approach might make a big difference: adding a layer of opt out. That is, the all children would be vaccinated at school, unless their parents requested a philosophical exemption following attendance at the educational session. (Children with legitimate medical contraindications would be excluded.)

This additional layer would ensure that parents who had a slight aversion to vaccination – but not one strong enough to be willing to attend class – would end up getting vaccinated. Would it work? I don’t know for sure, but I’d sure like to see.

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