Stemming the anti-vax tide


Jessica Park / Chief Illustrator

Jessica Park / Chief Illustrator
Jessica Park / Chief Illustrator

Since the year has begun, there have been 92 confirmed cases of measles that have originated from Disneyland, in California. These 92 cases, derived from one outbreak at the amusement park, make up approximately two-thirds of all confirmed cases of measles in the country. The worst part is that all of these cases could have been avoided, if only the children exposed had been vaccinated.
This outbreak comes two years after a whooping cough epidemic in the country that was considered by some to be the worst in 70 years. This time though, it looks like more attention is being brought to criticize people who refuse to vaccinate their children. In light of this attention, we wanted to look at the anti-vax movement and consider ways that this country can weigh the increased attention needed towards ensuring the public health of people, while also providing people some level of choice regarding their personal health.
First, who comprises the anti-vax movement? The movement is largely led by middle-to-upper-class families that cite personal, philosophical or religious beliefs in order to avoid vaccinating their children. Much of this movement is based off of misinformation. Despite evidence overwhelmingly stating otherwise, anti-vax families often believe that vaccinations may cause Autism and that a healthy lifestyle can prevent most infectious diseases. There is an expectation, too, that unvaccinated people will be fine because they trust other members of the population to receive the vaccinations. Members of some religious denominations have also used sacred texts to justify their children not receiving vaccinations.
48 states, including Missouri, allow parents to use religious or philosophical exemptions to prevent their children from being vaccinated. The states that have such a policy are playing an increasingly dangerous game of balancing civil liberties for families and the public health of the entire populace. One parent, Carl Krawitt, of Marin County, California, is challenging this exemption, arguing that his child, a six-year-old boy named Rhett, who is fighting leukemia, is endangered by children who are unvaccinated because of the choice their parents have made. Rhett, who has received four years of chemotherapy, cannot be vaccinated because of his disease, and his father asked the school district to ban students who are endangering Rhett’s health by not receiving vaccinations.
While we are understanding of parents’ desires to choose what they believe is best for their children, we think that the government should be able to require students who attend public school to receive their vaccinations. For parents that cite religious reasons to not vaccinate their children, they can send their children to private school or be home-schooled. In that way, we can allow choice for parents while also preserving public health.
We advocate for this on the grounds that individual choice should not lead to the harm of others. The health of the community is more important than a parent’s choice, and if the parent wants their child to participate in the community, they must subscribe to the rules of the community. As long as vaccinations are free (or inexpensive), widely available and safe – in most cases all of these are true – there is no reason that people should not receive them.
We believe that the standards of public health in public schools has allowed for these outbreaks to occur. While allowing some level of choice for parents’ choice regarding their children is necessary, those choices should also have fitting consequences.

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