There's a bizarre new twist in the vaccine wars: Authorities say some parents are ordering lollipops licked by children infected with chicken pox, and then giving the candy to their own kids on the theory that the exposure will build up their immunity without the need for shots. One doctor calls the trend a form of "Middle Ages vigilante vaccination," and health officials warn it's dangerous and illegal to send infected materials through the mail. "Can you imagine getting a package in the mail from this complete stranger that you know from Facebook because you joined a group, and say here, drink this purported spit from some other kid?" asks federal prosecutor Jerry Martin in Tennessee. What does it say that some parents actually think this is a good idea?
Parents have lost their minds: You'd have to be "insane" to order infected lollipops for your kids, says Max Read at Gawker. And some parents clearly are. It is frightening to think that social networks like Facebook are making it easier for the "unbelievably stupid" people capable of cooking up such a scheme to link up with the "inexplicably gullible" moms and dads who are willing to give it a try.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
The motivation of these parents isn't that crazy: We're not talking about some fringe group of wackos here, says Amy Graff at the San Francisco Chronicle. Eleven percent of U.S. parents refused at least one vaccine for their kids in 2009. Children get so many vaccines these days that some parents are afraid kids' "immune systems are weakening because they're no longer fighting off viruses" on their own. These moms and dads figure they survived these childhood diseases, and their kids will, too.
Chicken pox is nothing to mess with: Even previously healthy children can get serious complications from the varicella-zoster virus that causes chicken pox, says Dr. Lisa Dana at Baby Center. "These include secondary skin infections, pneumonia, encephalitis, and even death." It should be obvious, but "a lollipop sent from a stranger can be infected with other viruses, like hepatitis." We're lucky enough to have a vaccine to protect kids from chicken pox — use it.
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.