Poor Parental Risk Assessment

One of my friends posted this story that discusses the difficulties of a parent trying to find a day care for their immunocompromised child. Their child has leukemia and is currently undergoing chemotherapy meaning his immune system is roughly as effective as a screen door on a submarine. What’s interesting s that the story is attempting to explain the dangers of not immunizing children but fails to acknowledge a much bigger problem:

But here’s something that rarely gets discussed: the threat posed by the nonvaccinated to children who are immunosuppressed. Last year, while searching for child care for our 2-and-a-half-year-old son, my husband and I thought we had we found the perfect arrangement: an experienced home day care provider whose house was an inviting den of toddler industriousness. Under her magical hand, children drifted calmly and happily from the bubble station to the fairy garden to the bunnies and the trucks, an orchestrated preschool utopia. But when I asked: “Are any of the children here unvaccinated?” the hope of my son’s perfect day care experience burnt to a little crisp. As it turned out, one child had a philosophical or religious exemption—a convenient, cover-all exemption that many doctors grant, no questions asked, when a parent requests one. (I still do not understand how the state can allow one to attribute his or her fear of vaccines and their unproven dangers to religion or philosophy. But that’s a question for another day.)

Ordinarily I wouldn’t question others’ parenting choices. But the problem is literally one of live or don’t live. While that parent chose not to vaccinate her child for what she likely considers well-founded reasons, she is putting other children at risk. In this instance, the child at risk was my son. He has leukemia.

Ignoring the author’s rather condescending holier-than-thou attitude we must look at the much larger picture that is apparently being entirely ignored. The parent has acknowledged the fact that even minor diseases can be potentially lethal to her child and therefore will not allow her child to be around children that haven’t been immunized. That’s a smart decision but it fails to address the much more common issue of diseases for which no immunizations exist such as the common cold, the flu (granted there are limited immunizations against specific strains of the flu but they are far from effective against all strains of the flu), or pneumonia.

Even if a child has received all of their recommended immunizations they are still potential, and likely, carriers for the previously mentioned diseases. Whether an immunocompromised individual contracts whooping cough of a cold isn’t overly relevant as either one can be potentially lethal.

The parent in this article makes an all too common human mistake, she has done a poor job at risk assessment. Children, due to the fact their immune systems aren’t fully developed, are more susceptible to diseases. Therefore it’s risk to put an immunocompromised child in a day care or school as both will likely expose the child to numerous diseases. While the parent has assessed children who haven’t been immunized as a risk to her immunocompromised child she has entirely ignored the threat of diseases that can’t be immunized against.

Humans, in general, are poor assessors of risk. We will inflate the threat of unlikely risks while playing down the threat of more likely risks. Consider the gun rights movement. Many of us spend a great deal of time preparing to defend agains a violent attacker but often fail to exercise or eat properly to defend ourselves against the far more likely threat of heart disease.

The linked story is interesting because it is trying to demonstrate the risk of children who are not immunized but unintentionally demonstrates that the parent is doing a poor job of assessing overall risk. While a great deal of time is spent advertising the risks of not getting children immunized very little time is spent advertising the risks of common diseases like the cold. This is likely part of the reason the parent has put so much weight on the issue of immunization while ignoring the fact that putting her immunocompromised child in a day care is insanely risky regardless of whether the other children have received their recommended immunizations.

Our species’s inability to properly assess risk should always be taken into consideration when policies are introduced to mitigate a supposed risk. People should question government programs that promise to mitigate the risk of terrorism while risks involving far more common crimes are left ignored. When somebody offers sell you an expensive product to mitigate a risk you should stop and consider whether or not the risk in question is actually in need of being mitigated.

One thought on “Poor Parental Risk Assessment”

  1. “I still do not understand how the state can allow one to attribute his or her fear of vaccines and their unproven dangers to religion or philosophy.”

    I don’t even consider vaccines risky, and no child of mine will have one until they are quire older than the lady’s kid here. Because of my – get this – philosophy!

    Enduring illness as a child leads to a healthy immune system as an adult. And I’m not going to hamper my child’s future immune system (under the threat of jail time if I don’t!) because some lady doesn’t want to be bothered to take care of her own kid.

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