Since the introduction of the first vaccine in the early nineteenth century, an effort to stop the spread of smallpox by scientist Edward Jenner, vaccines have been met with fierce suspicion and opposition. The English government then made a law in 1853, mandating that infants be vaccinated, and later in 1867 penalties for refusal to vaccinate were implemented. The penalties were later removed due to widespread protest from anti-vaxxers. The smallpox vaccine then made its way to the U.S. and faced the same opposition. Yet in Jacobson V. Massachusetts, the supreme court ruled that a state can make compulsory laws in the protection of its population from an infectious disease. The conflict over vaccinations, and a government’s role in mandating vaccinations, continues to be a hotly contested subject today.
Some of the nastiest childhood diseases have proven to be fatal, luckily they are easily prevented through vaccination. So why are some still risking the safety of our children by refusing to vaccinate? Measles, a highly contagious, acute viral disease, claims the life of 450 children every day. However, many people do not believe in vaccinating their children against these diseases because of the levels of thimerosal in the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, even though thimerosal has not been found to have any neurological effects on the brain. Yet in 1988 the Lancet paper reported twelve cases linking the MMR vaccine to autism, which was then proved to be unfounded. Yet it succeeded in further igniting the anti-vaxxers belief in the harms of vaccinations.
Although the U.S. declared the eradication of measles in 2000, measles is still continuously introduced into the U.S. If 95% of the U.S. population was vaccinated then it would reach herd immunity, which protects the more vulnerable members of society to measles, those who cannot, for health reasons, become vaccinated, like HIV positive people, and those who are immunocompromised. From 2000 to 2015 vaccinations have dropped measles death worldwide by 79%. Yet, many people are still opposed to the vaccination, and thus don’t vaccinate themselves or their children, which decreases the number of persons vaccinated within the U.S. population, and nullifies the protection herd immunity could provide.
The anti-vaxxers argument rests on individual choice for matters of personal health. Yet vaccines are not just a matter of personal health, but the front line of protection against a national epidemic. Because vaccines are an issue of national health the national government should be allowed to make laws and regulations concerning vaccines. In fact the government has created laws than enforce an individual’s safety, such as the mandate to for all persons to wear a seatbelt when in a moving vehicle. And the U.S. government has made laws and regulations aimed at protecting personal safety, and the safety of others, such as the no texting and driving law. This law is enforced not just to protect the driver, but their passengers, and other vehicles they may come into contact with on the road. Likewise the U.S. should be able to follow in the footsteps of California, which eradicated all non-medical exemptions to vaccines, and mandate that all persons receive certain vaccinations, not only to protect themselves but to ensure the safety of others.
Guaman is a member of the class of 2022. Bell is a member of the class of 2021.