Parents Against Vaccines

Yesterday, the Ashland Daily Tidings posted an article called “Poxsicle Parties.

First, a little background. Ashland has the highest rate of nonvaccinated children in the state of Oregon (and has been recognized by the CDC as one of the highest in the nation). A few years ago, Frontline did a special called The Vaccine War, in which Ashland was highlighted. You can watch the clip about Ashland below (skip to 3:52), in which our pediatrician is interviewed and talks about how with a high percentage of non vaccinated children, Ashland is ripe for a potential outbreak. That’s awesome…

Back to the Ashland Daily Tidings article: it talks about parents who throw “pox parties” when their children get chicken pox, to try and give it to other children to help build up a natural immunity to it. Here’s a section from the article:

Pox parties are advertised through word of mouth, invitation-only Facebook groups and message boards. Parents on the local email group Mamas Medicine Wheel recently offered to host and searched for someone to host a chicken pox party. At the parties, children share food or drink with a child who has the chicken pox.

One Ashland mother, who did not want to be named, said she has taken her 7-year-old son to four chicken pox parties over the past two years. At these events, she’s seen a variety of transmission methods, including shared gum, lollipops, and Popsicles.

“If he catches the chicken pox, I’d host a party for moms I know in the community,” she said. “So far, he hasn’t caught it, but we’ll keep trying.”

Gosh, I wonder what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention think about chickenpox parties:

“Chickenpox parties” have been held to increase a child’s chance of getting chickenpox while he or she is still young. Chickenpox can be serious, especially for infants and even for some children. So, it is not worth taking the chance of exposing them to chickenpox. The best way to protect infants and children against chickenpox is to get them vaccinated.

They also linked to an article at the National Network for Immunization Information here.

Before we had Caleb, I had no idea that vaccination was such a highly-charged controversy. I had no idea that Jenny McCarthy, a former Playboy model, had become a spokesperson for the anti-vaccine movement (although, she says they aren’t truly against vaccines). And I had never heard of people having pox parties.

And I don’t get it.

I’m sure that we’ll meet folks here in Ashland who are against vaccinations, and I’m sure that people have their own well-thought-out reasons for making those decisions, but I just have a hard time understanding where they’re coming from. And if Caleb were to contract pertussis, or something else really serious, from a classmate who was not immunized, I think it’d be a little bit challenging for me to remember that I’m a pastor in the community, because it would frankly piss me off.

It just seems crazy to me that you’d want your kids to get chicken pox…kids die from it. There can be complications. And to try and get your kid to contract it at a party, swapping spit with a child who has chicken pox…that sounds kind of cruel if you ask me. In fact, when I posted about this on Facebook, some folks even went as far as to say “child abuse comes in all forms.” I wouldn’t want to go that far, but it does seem like something that just doesn’t sound right.

Do you know people who have been to “pox parties” before? What are your thoughts on the phenomenon?


  1. says

    I think the anti-vaccine thing has been proven again and again to be based on a farce. But people believe in it so it carries on.

    The same thing is going on about circumcision. (As you well know)

    For some reason first-time parents are prone to this fad stuff and I’m glad to see you’re taking a pass on this one. When we had our first kid there were TONS of parents in our church who believed that staying home was the only way to raise a child. The family pastor even published a manifesto backing the movement… even though his wife worked PT at the church.

    We really felt like the phenomenon was fueled by high-powered, highly educated moms who gave up their big career jobs to be stay-at-home moms. They were bored and put all of that energy into child-rearing. Play dates became events to manage. The child’s schedule became more important than the couple’s health, on and on.

    Since our kids are so spread out we have gotten to see these trends play out, come full circle, and just become laughable. Most are just silly. (Like the extreme feeding scheduling that was popular around 2000.) But the anti-vaccine thing has serious health risk.

  2. Laura Winer says

    The thing that upsets me the most is the risk unvaccinated children cause for other children in the community who have serious illnesses or are immuno-deficient and can’t fight off the diseases like a normally healthy child can. We never know who in our community could be seriously ill. In the interest of “it takes a village” we all have the responsibility to try to keep our communities and children as healthy as possible. Even the common cold can be seriously life threatening to a child with leukemia. All the more so, diseases like chicken pox and whooping cough.

  3. Tracy says

    So, when I was a kid (back in the late 60’s) there was not a vaccination for Chicken Pox. My mom did, in fact, take me to a “pox-party”,although I think it was just a casual purposeful visit to a child with chicken pox. This wasn’t an organized thing, just my mom trying to get us immunity while we were young. It worked out really well for me. I had a very mild case and I have proven immunity. I don’t remember every having it. My brother’s case was similar. On the other hand, good family friends of ours got chicken pox in their teens and were very miserable.

    Vaccines are actually based on this same model. We administer a dose of the virus so the immune system generate antibodies ahead of time. The only difference is that the virus is dead and the specific dose is known.

    I am sympathetic to the worry that parents have over the shear number of vaccines that are recommended these days. It’s pretty high. But I think that what is seriously distorted for people is the lack of awareness about the diseases we are talking about. I had a conversation with a parent a couple of years ago who mistakenly thought that chicken pox was eradicated. … No dear, that was small pox….

    diseases that we vaccinate against have serious complications. Diphtheria causes a membrane to grow over your wind-pipe and choke you. Tetanus causes muscle spasms and is rarely survived. whooping cough causes months of coughing fits that suck the wind right out of you – to the point that you vomit. IT kills very young and very old. Measles leads to secondary illness – a major killer in the developing world. Mumps can cause sterility. Rubella causes heart disease. Polio causes paralysis. We just don’t see these diseases, but they are still alive and well in this world. The more people travel between the US and developing world and vice versa, the more chance we have of bringing them back here.

    when vaccines were discovered it was a miraculous thing – something I’m sure that many people praised God for. I think it’s a shame that they are now trivialized.

    Chicken pox, I admit, seems much more trivial to me. But if you are immune to chicken pox, you will never get shingles. That’s pretty nice.

    I appreciated the mother in Ashland that discussed with the doctor each vaccine, the pros and cons and just decreased the number rather than blanketly rejecting them all.

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