My husband, who doesn’t follow news as closely as I do, has been commenting frequently this past week or two on the measles outbreak. It’s on his radar as much as it is on the radars of many other Americans who might not have realized how many people have been choosing not to vaccinate their children. Now, after measles has infected 102 people in 14 states just during the month of January, as the CDC says, the issue has been covered frequently in every kind of news outlet. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t seen at least one article on the topic just in my local paper.
Here’s what I have told my husband: Maybe it’s a good thing this has happened. Because, unfortunately, it usually takes a crisis to alert people to a problem. The problem is this: when a high enough percentage of the population isn’t vaccinated (a threshold we have reached now in the U.S.), diseases that used to be practically wiped out can pop right back up and infect — and kill — people.
I realize we are trying to tread a tricky line between individuals’ rights and government authority to compel people to do things. This is particularly challenging when those rights are ones that spring from religious beliefs. I am all too aware of how many religious beliefs have been trampled of late, but I think when it comes to the issue of vaccinations, the vast majority of those parents who are choosing not to vaccinate are not doing so because of religious beliefs. And their choice isn’t harming their own children; it is now actually killing others. That is when their right to choose ends: when it takes away someone else’s health or life. It’s as simple as that.
I reviewed a fascinating book fairly recently, On Immunity, a look at the history of vaccinations and the new class inequality created by those generally more upper-middle-class parents who are choosing not to vaccinate. It is a short book but one many more might want to check out now that the inevitable has occurred.
Some articles I’ve read most recently have indicated that some doctors are not accepting patients whose parents choose not to vaccinate or are having parents who had chosen not to vaccinate change their minds. That’s encouraging. I hope that this dangerous trend can be reversed before the situation gets worse.