America was founded upon principles of individual rights: We believe that people should be allowed to live their lives as they see fit. At the same time, however, individual freedoms must occasionally be limited, especially in situations where unabridged liberty may endanger the safety and welfare of the public. Vaccination against fatal diseases is one such case.
An outbreak of measles, a disease once nearly eradicated, has occurred in California as a result of high percentages of unvaccinated children. This event has turned the question of mandatory vaccinations has not only into a public health issue but also into a political one: A number of politicians, including three potential candidates for the 2016 presidential race—former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie—have publicly commented on the use of vaccinations. Whereas Clinton noted that vaccines work, Christie defended the rights of parents to have "some measure of choice.” Senator Paul went one step further, insisting that all vaccines be voluntary.
Though it would be extraordinarily ill-advised for the government to have unlimited control over citizens’ lives, the efficacy of vaccines, and especially of the measles vaccine at hand, is an established scientific fact. Paul and Christie are championing an unflinching insistence on individual rights that has no regard for the interests of public health. Theirs is a dangerous and destructive position.
Measles is a dangerous and potentially deadly disease, and the vaccine is remarkably effective. Nevertheless, there are some in the United States who reject vaccines not due to any religious or moral beliefs but rather because of a 1998 research paper which linked the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine to autism. The study has since been definitely disproven. While it is true that not all vaccines are effective and not all diseases are deadly, neither caveat applies to measles. The MMR vaccine should be universal.
Politicizing this issue, and, in particular, validating the idea that MMR vaccines should be voluntary, only lends credence to the misguided objections of a few. And even though the clarification later issued by Christie’s office suggests that he does believe the MMR vaccine should be mandatory (but that parents should be allowed to choose for other vaccines), the timing and content of his initial comment can, and has, been misconstrued by both anti-vaccination parents and by Christie’s political opponents. The doubts cast upon the necessity for vaccines by Paul and Christie provides ammunition for those opposed to vaccines and is potentially harmful for the public if resistance towards the MMR vaccine grows.
Currently, there is no federal standard for vaccinations; given that politicians on Capitol Hill have refrained from proposing either a federal ban or mandate for vaccination, the only effect of raising this “issue” on a national scale is the legitimization of a fringe movement that runs counter to modern science and public health.
Never should political posturing interfere with the lives of our nation’s children. We acknowledge both the importance of individual rights, and we believe that not all vaccines should mandatory. But even as the government must balance the principles of liberty with benefits to public health, in this case the evidence is clear. MMR vaccines save lives; abstract principles of liberty do not.
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