by Charlotte Betts '19
In the winter of 2018, Washington State began grappling with a severe measles outbreak. Still rampant, over forty-nine individuals have been diagnosed with measles. A whopping thirty-four of them are between the ages of one and ten, and more importantly, forty-one of them are unvaccinated due to personal philosophy (CNN). This outbreak is reminiscent of late-nineties hysteria brought on by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who published a study suggesting that MMR, the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, caused autism. Since then, vaccines have been subject to criticism, especially among fearful United States parents (Rao, Andrade). As a result, multiple vaccine-preventable diseases are on the rise, as exhibited by Washington. Although research indicates that vaccination cultivates a disease-free population, individuals maintain aversions to vaccination for a variety of reasons, like unalterable religious beliefs or unalterable physical intolerance; however, exemptions founded on personal philosophy are invalid, as public safety remains dependent on widespread vaccination (Online Masters in Public Health). Currently, state governments regulate vaccination and several allow personal exemptions; therefore, in order to maintain a healthy population, the federal government should implement vaccine-related laws to eradicate re-emerging diseases, to protect the United States population, and to help individuals save money on healthcare.
Immunization dramatically reduces rates of lingering, deadly diseases in the United States, which would otherwise take thousands of lives per year. Before vaccines became popular, fatal diseases flourished throughout the United States and killed millions of unvaccinated individuals. Luckily, vaccination greatly suppressed the diseases, but today, they can still develop in unvaccinated children (Hussain). Some diseases have long been absent, but if a population is not mostly immune, the likelihood of a disease returning is high. In 1974, eighty percent of Japanese children were vaccinated against pertussis, and 393 cases were reported. The lack of disease lulled Japanese citizens into not vaccinating. Five years later, 13,000 cases were reported. Soon after the Japanese government implemented vaccines, reports of the disease diminished. The chances of a child getting a disease today may be low, but without vaccination, a disease is likely to make a comeback, as pertussis did in Japan (CDC). The United States government should learn from this example.
Some individuals are medically unable to be vaccinated, and when those who can vaccinate do, it protects the vulnerable individuals. For example, the majority of vaccines include egg products, inhibiting immunization for individuals allergic to eggs, and vaccinating pregnant woman is dangerous to their unborn child, who does not have the immune system to tolerate the vaccination (Healthline). Said individuals still want to avoid disease, meaning that those around them must be vaccinated. This is a form of vaccination for people who cannot: herd immunity, where an unvaccinated individual experiences indirect protection from a disease because a large percent of the population is immune. Not vaccinating one’s child, based on personal beliefs, poses a danger to an individual who would prefer to remain disease-free (CDC).
If an individual is vaccinated, they ultimately save time and money. A child with a vaccine-preventable disease will be denied attendance at most schools, unable to receive an education. Some vaccine-preventable diseases can result in long-term debilitating injuries, can limit future job opportunities, and also augment an individual’s healthcare costs (Vaccine Information). Getting vaccinated against these diseases saves that money, and vaccinations are often covered by medical insurance. If not, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) funds numerous programs that provide vaccines to low-income families at little to no cost. Vaccination is an investment, and saves an individual future financial and physical hurt.
Although the pro-vaccination argument is overwhelming, and keeps the population healthy, comfortable, and secure, the anti-vaccination campaign based on personal belief presents numerous oppositions. Some anti-vaxxers take issue with the ingredients. Vaccines have unnatural ingredients, often genetically engineered or preserved, and many parents dislike their children consuming those things. Additionally, vaccines are not vegan. They contain gelatin and egg extracts, and don’t accommodate those who live that lifestyle (David Wolfe). Some disagree with vaccination because it appears harmful for children. Vaccines may prevent children from developing immune systems that can protect against less serious illnesses. Also, vaccines have tangible effects, like soreness and discomfort. Many parents question the worth of vaccination at the cost of their child’s well-being (Nerd) (History of Vaccines). These parents rely on herd immunity. It allows them to fulfill personal beliefs, while also keeping their children safe.
While religious and medical refutations are necessary, the philosophical refutations are valid, but ultimately, flawed. In the context of ingredients, before their release, vaccines are thoroughly vetted by a team of scientists, doctors, and healthcare professionals. If they deem it appropriate, the quality of the ingredients must be reasonable and safe. As for pain, vaccinations cause redness and tenderness at the site of injection, but those effects are minimal compared to the discomfort and trauma caused by a vaccine-preventable disease (Rao, Andrade). Lastly, vegans see consumption of the animal products morally impermissible, but are protected by herd immunity. However, herd immunity is only effective if at least ninety-four percent of the population is vaccinated, which will not be the case if their children go unvaccinated due to their moral standard (Vaccines).
According to multiple studies, the only factor that contributes to vaccination rates is a state’s laws. States have no rules to follow, and have inconsistent vaccination rates, with Michigan at sixty-seven percent, and Georgia at seventy-eight percent (NVIC). No state reaches ninety-four percent (CDC). The only hope to preserve the benefits of vaccination is through federal intervention. The states have been left to determine their laws, and currently, are allowing the argument of personal philosophy and fear to impede on consistent vaccination. The benefits of vaccinations are undeniable. If the federal government can eliminate state lenience, the United States will live in a greater condition of health.