Vaccination and Personal Liberty

By Leah Reiss

On Tuesday, February 9th Roosevelt met to discuss vaccines and personal liberty. The United States is currently suffering from the worst measles outbreak in almost 20 years. Measles were declared to be eradicated in the United States in 2000, but in recent years has been on the rise. Last year saw 664 cases, the highest in decades, but since the start of 2015 107 cases of measles have been reported in California, with over three dozen additional cases reported in 19 other states and Mexico. The epicenter of the virus is believed to be an unvaccinated eight-year-old who visited Disneyland and infected other unvaccinated children. This follows a break out of whooping cough in California in 2010 that infected 9,120 people and killed 10 babies, who are too young to receive vaccinations. The resurgence of essentially wiped-out diseases is largely attributed to anti-vaccination movements, which encourage people not to vaccinate their children because of the harmful health effects of vaccines or mistrust for the government and the “true purpose” of large-scale vaccinations.

There are two main demographic groups of anti-vaxxers, distinguished from each other by factors such as geography and income. One anti-vaccination movement is associated with not wanting to “pollute” their children’s bodies with diseases or “harmful chemicals” such as mercury or formaldehyde. This occurs mainly in high income areas, particularly Marin County, California, and may be associated with a resurgence of natural approaches in certain upper class parenting circles, such as organic food and homeopathic medicine. The other anti-vaxxing group is socially conservative and concentrated in the Deep South, where not vaccinating has been linked to a general mistrust of government and unwillingness to comply with state-mandated health measures.

During our discussion we unanimously agreed that all members of society who are able to should get vaccinated as children to protect themselves and others from diseases like mumps, measles, and whooping cough. However, the more contentious question that emerged was whether or not parents who do not vaccinate their child should face some kind of penalty. Some participants thought that these parents should be fined. Others believed that penalties should only be applied to parents if disease outbreaks could be traced to their children. And some thought that parental rights should trump the government’s, so though parents should vaccinate their children, there should not be any legal consequences for parents who do not. Several policy ideas were proposed including imposing a standard for the required percentage of vaccinated residents in each county in accordance with herd immunity and imposing a fine on parents if they choose not to vaccinate their children.