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MMR vaccinations and public health

February 3, 2015

Prior to 1963, there was no vaccine for measles and along with chicken pox, mumps and yes, polio, it was just one of the expected hazards of childrearing.

Death rates among children aged birth to age 15 are tracked by government agencies but instances of infection by childhood illnesses have far less data available. The CDC reports that in the years 1958-1962, 503,282 measles cases were reported.

The first measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, and in 1998 just 83 cases were reported.

The side effects of measles include encephalitis (rare), ear infections which can result in deafness, respiratory infections and convulsions. Contrary to what some believe, this is a serious illness.

It is impossible to convince someone who doesn’t want to be convinced that vaccines are safe. No matter how many studies prove that vaccines are safe for most children, those people will cling tenaciously to whatever they need to believe, so inserting logic into the discussion is pretty fruitless.

Which brings us to the age-old question…do your rights end where my nose begins?

In cases where the child or person is already immune-compromised, the vaccines may in fact not be recommended, so there will always be a small percentage of people who are not immunized. Added to that number are those who are too young to receive the vaccines.

Certainly if your medical professional determines that there is a valid medical reason to forego the vaccinations, you or your child is no less a threat to others than those who simply refuse to be convinced of the safety of vaccines.

The difference is that if your child or you are already known to have a weak immune system, you are probably already taking precautions against becoming ill and staying out of situations where you might contract a disease.

In the case of those who simply ignore the science, or believe in discredited science, they are not taking those precautions.

So what’s the answer?  One woman interviewed in California may have mirrored the opinion of many when she suggested that those parents home school their children. The same argument could be made for day care, restaurants, public parks and other public areas like movie theaters, subways, buses, planes, and even grocery stores.

You are absolutely allowed by law to not vaccinate your child if you claim one of the exemptions. However, the law can also require that you not interact with the general public, particularly during periods of outbreaks.

Freedom always confers some element of personal responsibility.

The so-called “herd immunity” works because the chances of infection are significantly reduced.

Pre-vaccines, it was fairly common for parents to deliberately expose their children to chickenpox when they were of pre-school age, reasoning that they might as well get the inevitable over with before they started school. (Contrast that with today’s helicopter parenting!)

No one wants to see a scenario where children are forcibly vaccinated. You, and you alone will have to deal with any adverse consequences if your own child contracts a preventable disease because you made a choice not to vaccinate.

However, if your child infects another child, then you are also responsible for that child’s outcomes, morally if not legally.

If your attitude is “I don’t give a damn about your kid, I’m going to do what I think is best for mine”  then your decision is no longer purely personal.

Quite frankly, 100 or so cases hardly qualifies as an epidemic, at least not yet. But the fact that they exist and the number includes a significant number of unvaccinated individuals should spark some decisions about how to minimize the risk to the rest of us.

From → op-ed

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