Every parent wants the best for their child. People involved in anti-vaccination groups frequently fall back to “prochoice” and “parental rights” arguments because science doesn’t support their position.

Similarly, when car seats were mandated across the United States during the 1980’s, some argued the case for parental choice. Examining prochoice arguments against compulsory car seat use helps illustrate failings in similar arguments against vaccine mandates.

Car seats aren’t perfect. They tend to be uncomfortable. They also limit the child’s sight and even the parent’s view of the child. On rare occasions, straps or buckle mechanisms pinch children. Similarly, some argue that vaccines shouldn’t be mandated until they’re perfect. They point to the fact that babies may have a fever or may be fussy following vaccination as a reason to not vaccinate. For both car seats and vaccines, the discomforts are short-lived and well worth the benefit.

Parents against mandates frequently utilize “what if” arguments.

“What if the car became engulfed in flames or submerged in water and the child couldn’t escape because of the restraints?” Likewise, they argue, “what if vaccines cause autism or some other disorder,” even though the preponderance of data indicate their safety.

Car seats haven’t been without problems. In the past, children were injured because it wasn’t known that infants should face the rear. Another lesson learned was that car seats and front seat air bags don’t mix. There have been mishaps with vaccines as well. With car seats and vaccines, study of adverse events have led to improvements.

Imagine if states allowed philosophical exemptions from car seats. Parents wouldn’t have to restrain their child as “it may damage their sense of freedom and adventure.” Others might forgo car seats as “a few bumps and bruises from car accidents toughens the child.” Religious parents could reject car seats, as “God will protect.” Parents rejecting vaccination make parallel arguments.

Fatal injuries among children in car crashes have fallen 99 percent since car seats were mandated. Parents against car seats might argue this is due to “improvements in highway safety and safer cars.” Furthermore, car seats are unnecessary as “modern hospitals and medical care are amazingly good.” They might also point out that currently “most children dying in auto accidents are restrained” trying to somehow implicate car seats in the deaths. Similarly, deaths and disability from most vaccine preventable diseases are almost unheard of now.

Still, those against vaccines often argue that their rarity is due to our modern lifestyle, the diseases are treatable by present day medicine and that vaccines injure more than they help.

There’s one big difference between car seats and vaccines. Not placing a child in a car seat doesn’t endanger other people’s children. Unvaccinated children are a threat to others. Children should have the right to attend daycare and school without being exposed to vaccine preventable diseases. The decision to vaccinate children should be a reassuring choice.

Vaccine Smarts is written by Sealy Institute for Vaccine Sciences faculty members Drs. Megan Berman, an associate professor of internal medicine, and Richard Rupp, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch. For questions about vaccines, email vaccine.smarts@utmb.edu.

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