Though disease prevention seems like something the U.S. is caught up on, the decision to vaccinate has become increasingly more like taking one for
A recent, highly publicized measles outbreak originating from Disneyland in California has resulted in just over 100 cases of the easily prevented disease. The outbreak has been potentially linked to a low percentage of vaccination in the state, with statistics from the California Department of Public Health reporting a large number of non-vaccinators in Orange County, where the park is located. CNN reported cases of measles as far east as New York and Pennsylvania.
An outbreak of a highly contagious and preventable disease such as measles is a perfect platform upon which 2016 presidential hopefuls and other prominent political figures can develop their agendas. Earlier this week, President Barack Obama even advised parents to vaccinate their children, as reported by NBC News. Other major politicians have been using the measles outbreak as a way to represent their overall worldview.
For instance, it shouldn’t be surprising that libertarian politico Sen. Rand Paul reacted by appealing to freedom of choice and said that vaccines should be optional because of their theoretical side effects, including “profound mental disorders” — a stance he has since tried to clear up, as reported by CNBC.
Though well-intentioned, Paul’s opinion assumes that individual decisions do not have an impact on society.
This obviously isn’t true, as every action an individual makes impacts the state of society. It is easy to say that if an individual believes the risk of measles outweighs the risk of side effects from the vaccine, then this individual can receive it while others do not. However, doing so will still allow one to be insulated from the disease while others contract it based on their own free will.
Reality is not that simple. Contrary to Paul’s beliefs, vaccination promotion belongs in political discourse precisely because health is a community effort like other parts of the public domain, such as education, infrastructure and security.
If only individuals were affected by disease, it would make perfect sense for politicians and the world of Washington to leave this aspect of our private lives untouched. Yet, as it stands, vaccination is not an individual choice — it affects everyone.
There are many who cannot receive vaccines, or have a condition that causes them to wait, and these are usually groups who are already the most vulnerable.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highly discourage pregnant or nursing women and people with certain allergies from getting the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella, while it advises people with a weakened immune system, including those with HIV or AIDS, and those diagnosed with cancer, to wait before receiving the vaccine. These people do not have the free choice that other members of society do.
This is where policy can step in. One of the main roles of government should be, at the very least, to protect those who do not have the strength or means to protect themselves. In this case, public policy not only has the right, but the responsibility to mandate responsible vaccination.
Chelsea Mulligan is a freshman majoring in international studies.