Vaccination Doubters Are Killing Children


“Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Some may recognise this from the works of either Jeremy Bentham or John Stuart Mill explaining the concept of “utilitarianism”, which espouses the best course of action is the one that maximises utility.

They would be wrong (the people, not the philosophers). It was said by First Officer Spock in the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan when he was trying to explain why he was willing to sacrifice himself to save the crew of the Enterprise.

It’s kind of the opposite with proponents of anti-vaccination. They believe that the needs of their few children outweigh the needs of the general population.

I wrote about the issues of not vaccinating back in 2015. It’s rather disappointing that after almost four years, things haven’t got much better. If anything, they’ve got worse.

I am repeating myself but here is why vaccinations are good: They save around two million lives each year. They help people who can’t get vaccinations themselves through herd immunity. They’ve helped smallpox become extinct (saving approximately five million lives a year in the process) and are doing a great job getting control over other diseases like diphtheria.

Or perhaps I should say “were”. Trust me when I say that it’s with no small amount of anger that I read headlines like “Unvaccinated toddler in Malaysia dies from diphtheria” earlier this week. And five more children had to quarantined, according to the news articles.

This is what I mean when I say anti-vaxxers might have a right to put their own child at risk, but they have no right to do the same to others.

I’ve seen some suggestion on the Internet that that anti-vaxxers need to be educated or that there needs to be outreach programmes to the poorer kampung folk easily swayed by rumour. Except I don’t think this is right. People who don’t fully vaccinate their children are not largely in the rural areas, they’re not necessarily uninformed, and they’re not going to be persuaded by any outreach programme.

I came to this conclusion after reading a study titled “Primary Immunisation among Children in Malaysia: Reasons for Incomplete Vaccination” published by the Health Ministry in 2017.

It reported that parents who didn’t trust vaccines were unsurprisingly more likely to not completely vaccinate their children (between 11 and 14 times more likely).

What else? “The prevalence was also lower among children of parents with secondary education level as compared to those with tertiary education level.” That is, parents who were university graduates were more likely to not completely vaccinate, compared to those who stopped school at the secondary level (again, about twice as likely).

And, finally: “Those who reside in urban areas were three times at higher risk of not completing their primary immunisation compared to those from rural areas”.

After all, it’s not like it’s a matter of life and death.

So many were ready to admit they didn’t trust vaccines, but very few of those gave that precisely as the reason why they didn’t complete the vaccination for their children. Which sort of hovers somewhere between ignorance and apathy.

It could be the reason that rich, educated people don’t trust vaccines has nothing to do with their ability to understand the evidence supporting vaccination. It could be that they just simply reject it outright.

A study by the University of Queensland in Australia surveyed more than 5,000 people from 24 countries and tried to find a correlation between people who did not trust vaccines and other beliefs. Their conclusions were that people who don’t agree with vaccination were also more inclined to believe in conspiracies, and to enjoy feeling rebellious or different.

This creates an issue. No amount of evidence presented by anybody in authority is going to persuade this group. I mean, would you trust somebody who was conspiring against you with the big pharma companies?

Secondly, if they are in a conspiracy, they’re probably making the facts up anyway.

So I say, if you’re going to get a fight from the anti-vaxxers anyway, then you should do it on a platform of mandatory vaccination. There’s going to be heated argument and protests either way, but one of them is going to result in children living.

The irony about the quote by Spock is that in the next Star Trek movie (The Search For Spock – I kid you not with these titles), Captain James T. Kirk rescues Spock from death, and says he does it because “the good of the one outweigh the good of the many”.

Of course, we all know Captain Kirk is the one that uses emotion over logic. But I would like to believe that even he would make an exception if doing so would result in keeping children alive.


In his fortnightly column, Contradictheory, mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi explores the theory that logic is the antithesis of emotion but people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions. Write to Dzof at star2@thestar.com.my.





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