By Daniel Palmieri
Ever since the measles outbreak at Disneyland, California in early January,
the media has constantly been covering the issue of parental choice in vaccination.
Much of the debate has not been focused on the effectiveness or safety of vaccines,
but rather whether a parent has the right to choose whether or not their child gets
vaccinated. By covering this aspect, vaccinations have been transformed into a
partisan issue. In opposition, the public hears Rand Paul stating, “I have heard of
many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound
mental disorders after vaccines.” In favor, the public hears Elizabeth Warren’s
powerful defense of vaccines during a common Senate hearing. Right here we find
one of the roots of the problem: vaccines are not and should not be a partisan issue.
Vaccination rates are overall fairly high for much of the country, reaching around
91% for the mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccine in children 19-35 months.
This already shows us that vaccination rates are not really divided across party
lines, so why are we trying to make this into a partisan issue? However, this begs the
question: across what line are people divided in regards to vaccinations?
Statistically, it has been difficult to draw the line, because there is no unifying
“factor” that separates the anti-vaccine movement from the rest. The only unifying
statistic is that most of them tend to be well educated and come from wealthy areas,
such as the Silicone Valley. A WIRED investigation looked into twelve different
daycares in the Silicone Valley, to find that half had under average vaccination rates,
rates too low for herd immunity.
Herd immunity brings me to my next point about the anti-vaccination
movement, and it is without a doubt the most problematic. Herd immunity
represents a vaccination rate amongst the population, usually around 95%, that is
required for a disease not to infect those who cannot be vaccinated for medical
reasons or otherwise. There are children with immuno-compromising conditions,
such as certain forms of leukemia, which prevents them from being vaccinated. This
is not a choice for these children; they depend on kids around them being
vaccinated to avoid becoming sick. While a normal child can usually survive
measles, even after a week of miserable rashes and coughing, these children who do
not have functioning immune systems would likely die from a measles infection.
Much of the anti-vaccination movement cites the right to decide their child’s medical
treatment and overall liberty of choice, but they seem to have forgotten the real
definition of liberty. They believe that liberty is simply being able to do whatever
they want, simply because they want it; this is not the liberty that was defined by
our Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence cites that we are
endowed “with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness.” The anti-vaccine movement that cries for the preservation of
liberty forgets the fact that they cannot take away another person’s right to life and
“the pursuit of happiness.” Should an immuno-compromised child have to stay at
home from school because too many kids at his school are unvaccinated, which puts
him at risk of a life-threatening infection?
An accurate comparison to this situation would be drunk driving. Of course,
some people believe that they would be able to drive with an blood alcohol content
above the legal limit, but should they be allowed to surpass this limit just because
they believe it does not damage them? The fact of the matter is that this small
amount of self-control ultimately ends up protecting those around you: when you
drink, you put other in danger. Vaccines are, frankly, very much the same. One may
think that his child does not need to be vaccinated because there are “alternate”
ways to protect him, but that is completely irrelevant. You are still putting other
people in danger by choosing to not vaccinate your child; the facts are frankly
irrefutable. Overall, vaccination is by no means a partisan issue; it’s a matter of some
people trusting consistently disproved research, and thinking that’s worth putting a
child’s life in danger.