The entire country is in the middle of a divisive and long-winded argument over the balance of group security on one side and individual freedoms on the other, and Arizona is an interesting microcosm of the debate at large. The question is whether or not we should make vaccinations mandatory and limit the amount of personal exemptions a person can have to avoid their children getting inoculated against dangerous illnesses.
Time reported in 2015 that nearly one in ten Americans believed vaccinations to be unsafe, most of them supporting the allegation that vaccinating a child increases the chance of the development of autism. To put it mildly, the scientific community disagrees. Public Health reported that the allegation that vaccines cause or encourage the development of autism does not even match the evidence that autism develops in utero, before a child is even born, let alone subjected to vaccines. Pew reported that 86 percent of scientists not only believe vaccines are important and non-dangerous but also that they should be absolutely mandatory for every child in the country.
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And even though the Center for Disease Control, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Institutes of Health, National Academy of Sciences and the World Health Organization all encourage parents to vaccinate their children against countless diseases, some thought at one point to be eradicated, not everyone is on board. The AAFP reported that, in the past 10 years, exemptions given to parents for philosophical and religious reasons have generally increased, though they luckily may be plateauing. They go further to report that in areas with higher exemptions, outbreaks of diseases are larger and more frequent. And just last week, Arizonan lawmakers met to discuss changing our laws on personal exemptions and decided to call for a vote for it on party lines, ignoring medical advice all the way along.
The Republicans, who sponsored and voted for the bill that would allow parents greater access to exemptions from mandatory vaccinations, point towards personal liberty and the right of a parent to decide for themselves how to raise their children. Democrats, on the other hand, said the issue of disease control goes beyond individual rights if it could lead to the deaths of children and the outbreak of diseases. So who’s in the right?
It’s important to remember that, in the United States, we have a very high percentage of children who are vaccinated, between 70 and 91 %, depending on the booster, which produces something called “herd immunity,” meaning because there aren’t many people who a disease can jump between, those of us who are not vaccinated don’t have to worry as much as if you lived in a place where a disease could easily travel. Increasing the number of personal exemptions weakens herd immunity significantly and makes it much more dangerous for those who can not receive vaccines or those whose bodies aren’t healthy enough to be vaccinated themselves.
The scientific community is 86 percent in favor of mandatory vaccinations for a very good reason. The CDC found a correlation between children receiving no vaccinations at all and those with no coverage, meaning that children who become sick by a disease that they could have been otherwise vaccinated against will also suffer the greatest under poor care or put their families under extreme financial burden. All in all, mandatory vaccinations would help protect children and their families from the tragedy of disease and massively expensive medical bills.
Personal liberty and the religious freedom enshrined in the Constitution are important parts of living in the United States and cannot be forgotten, but the amount of personal exemptions must be limited as much as possible to ensure that diseases do not take the lives of our children. If we make personal non-medical exemptions as rare as possible while still allowing a limited amount of religious exemptions, we can live in a society where our disease outbreak rates will finally fall instead of rise; those who need exemptions for sincere religious reasons have nothing to fear and can enjoy the benefits of herd immunity.
Alec Scott is a junior studying political science and German studies