An Alternative to Vaccines: Voluntary Intentional Exposure

A kid sick in bed

Illustration by Cécile Graat

There seems to be this dichotomy where there are only two choices to protect our communities from preventable diseases: vaccinate or don’t vaccinate. I propose we offer a third option: doctor and CDC-monitored voluntary intentional exposure.

There are currently over 50 confirmed cases of measles in the U.S. right now. I suggest we offer families who choose not to vaccinate for philosophical beliefs (rather than medical or religious reasons) the option to have their unvaccinated child spend time with a known infected person to intentionally try to catch the disease. Some families have already tried these “pox parties” to try to get their children to develop natural immunity to chicken pox, but having doctors and the CDC monitor the exposure, quarantine, and treatment during the illness would likely make this safer and more effective.

One of the biggest problems with diseases like measles and pertussis is that it’s not immediately apparent that a person is infected and contagious. This would eliminate that uncertainty. You would know exactly when the child was exposed and be able to quarantine them while they’re contagious, have them monitored by their doctor and quickly provide treatments for any complications such as pneumonia or ear infection.

Once the child is no longer contagious, the quarantine can end, and the child can go back into the community with lifelong immunity. One more child contributing to herd immunity, without the need for a vaccine.

Parents who don’t vaccinate their children now are already taking the risk that their child will contract diseases naturally. I imagine if offered this option, many families would choose it. This must of course be voluntary and offered only as an opportunity. Coercing or compelling people is not effective.

Telling concerned parents who choose not to vaccinate their children to “Just Do It” is about as effective as the “Just Say No” to drugs campaign. If we want to increase the percentage of people who are immune to diseases like measles and pertussis, we need to offer other viable options.

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