Ezekiel Stephan was a perfectly healthy toddler from rural Alberta until he quickly grew sick with a cold and had trouble breathing. Over the next few weeks, he grew more and more sick until he was taken to Alberta Children’s Hospital where he was placed on life support. He died two days later on March 16, 2012.
The cause of death was meningitis: a vaccine-preventable disease. It should come as no surprise that at 19 months, he had not received a single one of his scheduled vaccinations — including the vaccination for Haemophilus influenza type b, to protect against bacterial meningitis.
The World Health Organization recently released a list of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019. Among the list of diseases like Ebola virus, HIV and a global influenza pandemic is the hesitancy for parents to vaccinate children.
All over the globe, previously eradicated diseases are now returning in full swing. The state of New York is now dealing with the largest measles outbreak in recent history. Madagascar has reported nearly 20,000 cases and 39 deaths related to measles since October. In Ukraine, nearly 45,000 people contracted the measles, which led to 15 deaths last year. The problem is global, and it is only getting worse.
The anti-vaccine movement is unique in that it unites both the left and right. Left-wing anti-vaccine advocates tend to have a distrust of corporations and big pharma, while the right has a distrust of government and believe in limited government intervention. Regardless of political ideology, both groups ignore the facts of modern medicine and are equal sides of a conspiratorial coin.
What unites countries that have seen this drastic uptick in measles cases is clear: governments appeasing this same conspiracy-centric population by amending legislation to easily allow parents to opt-out of immunizations. This is extremely troubling.
If governments cater to the most extreme of conspiracy theorists rather than healthcare professionals when it comes to vaccines, why not for other issues as well? Alex Jones, who has an incredibly large following of as many as 10 million viewers per month, maintains that the government puts chemicals in the water “that turn the friggin’ frogs gay.”
Governments cannot cave to the pressure of conspiracy theorist lunacy, otherwise programs such as water fluoridation — which has been incredibly successful at saving communities dental costs and preventing tooth decay — would no doubt be outlawed.
Governments should craft legislation based on the conclusions of the scientific community and not based on public distrust of governments or corporations. After all, it is within the scope of government to keep citizens safe.
More than putting their own children at risk, anti-vaccine parents also put far more people at risk. Many people, especially newborn babies who are too young to receive vaccines, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems due to illness, often cannot receive a vaccine and depend on herd immunity — a high percentage of the population being vaccinated making infectious diseases harder to spread — to stay healthy.
Those who choose not to vaccinate their kids can indirectly play a role in the suffering and death of someone they do not even know.
Therefore, Canada must follow other developed nations in stricter enforcement of vaccinations. Australia has begun to cut child benefit payments for parents who refuse to immunize their children. Canada must examine similar models of enforcement. More than just an extra burden on our universal healthcare system, those who choose not to vaccinate their kids are putting the lives of countless vulnerable people at risk.
No parent should have to feel the way the parents of Ezekiel Stephan do, having directly contributed to the death of their child through remarkably terrible decisions. Decisions as sensitive and consequential to the life of a child should not be the decision of the parents to make. Especially when those decisions run counter to scientific consensus and the interest of the child.
While parents have near-complete control over their child, it should be the role of the government, through consultations with medical professionals to determine crucial decisions that are a matter of life or death.