It’s all over the news: “US mom jailed for not vaccinating son.” “Michigan mom jailed for not vaccinating 9-year-old son.” “Judge orders Michigan mom 7 days in jail for not vaccinating her son.”
But here’s the rub. Michigan mother Rebecca Bredow, who was sentenced to 7 days in jail beginning October 4 by Oakland County Judge Karen McDonald, was NOT thrown in the clink for not vaccinating her 9-year-old son. She was thrown in the clink for not following through on legal agreements she made with her ex-husband to have their son immunized. There’s a difference, and an important one at that.
According to Michigan media outlet MLive and the BBC, Bredow willingly entered into legal agreements with her former husband back in November of 2015 that said she would vaccinate their child, but she failed to do exactly what she said she would. Because the legal agreements are binding, Judge Karen McDonald issued an ultimatum to Bredow: Vaccinate your son or face jail time. Bredow chose the latter, and as a result, she is now serving time for refusing to uphold her end of the bargain. It’s as simple as that.
The way the media is publicizing the incident suggests it was the simple act of refusing vaccination that landed this woman in hot water, when in fact, it was the violation of the legal agreement that caused her trouble. Bredow could have refused to let her son cuddle pink ponies, for all the court cared. The issue was not in WHAT she refused to do. The issue was in the simple fact that she DID REFUSE despite having signed documents promising to follow through — documents the judge reiterated Bredow had signed willingly.
So why is this distinction so important?
Because as of this incident, there is a growing trend to not vaccinate children, putting them and those who are immunocompromised, including infants, the elderly, and those who are unable to get vaccinations for medical reasons, at risk for deadly and preventable communicable diseases. Michigan, for example, rates among the worst states when it comes to child immunizations, ranking 43rd when it comes to vaccinated children between the ages of 19 months and 35 months. And blaming this woman’s incarceration on “not vaccinating her son” rather than the true reason — not adhering to legally binding agreements — only serves to further sour the public perception of vaccination.
I mean, think about it. A headline that reads, “Woman Jailed for Not Vaccinating Son,” most certainly elicits reactions like, “Get the government out of my medical business! Now pro-vaxxers are gonna lock me up for not immunizing my children? Down with Big Pharma and down with vaccination!” doesn’t it?
For her part, Bredow states, “I would rather sit behind bars for standing up for what I believe in, than giving into something I strongly don’t believe in.” And that’s her right (though I personally do not agree with it). But what’s not her right is to renege on a legal commitment she made and expect to not face consequences. At the end of the day, that’s why she is where she is.
Also not anyone’s right? To cunningly imply the pro-vaccination movement is somehow to blame for her incarceration, whether that implication is intentional or not.
We’re already fighting an uphill battle in defense of science in more ways than one. Let’s not add more kindling to the fire.