Report reveals need to view vaccination as moral obligation

Alex Boyer, Senior Writer

A new Wall Street Journal last week article found that thousands of elementary schools, both public and private, are failing to immunize children at effective rates. According to the report, “For states with overall immunization data, 77.8 percent of schools had an immunization rate of 90 percent or better, and roughly 2,700 schools were below the 80 percent vaccination rate.” This represents a threat to even vaccinated children since low rates of vaccinations are typically clustered geographically and might lead to a higher chance of contagious outbreaks of preventable disease. Religious and personal exemption to vaccines stymie our ethical obligations — should we let these people opt out of vaccination at the peril of reviving chances of measles outbreaks? Should children die as a result of a personal decision to abstain from life-saving vaccinations? I believe that the answer is clear: we should restrict exemptions from vaccinations and make sure all children in public schools are vaccinated. At the same time, it is important to understand one of the main reasons why one might feel motivated to abstain from vaccination: a general distrust of science and government.

While there is somewhat of an anti-vaccination push among concerned parents of youths, this concern is empirically unfounded. Anti-vaccination proponents were the first generation to grow up in a world without preventable diseases like measles, essentially due to vaccinations or the effect of herd immunity. It’s no random act of god (or government conspiracy) that cases of measles outbreaks dropped to nearly zero percent after the introduction of the MMR vaccine, and cases of measles, which less than a century ago were commonplace, are extraordinary today. No one is denying that vaccinations may have side-effects or complications, yet these vaccinations save many thousands of lives.

Children ought to be vaccinated without exception, unless in extreme health-related circumstances. Vaccinations are unique because large amounts of opt-out behavior actually decrease the effectiveness of the vaccine, even for those who accept the vaccine’s empirical benefits. Exemption from vaccination should be seen as a societal choice, not an individual one. The liberal conception of individual freedom should not apply in this case because an individual’s choice has a negative, quantifiable spillover effect for society at large, putting a significant number of people at risk for contracting a deadly yet preventable disease. These choices hurt communities and all children, and to prevent this harm, we ought to have laws more strictly enforcing mandatory vaccination. It may present an opportunity for our government and scientific community to rebuild trust with disenfranchised communities to be more prudent on transparency and principle; however, we also have to recognize that the lives of children come first and cannot be put at risk due to unfounded fears.

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