When we hear the word, “epidemic,” we usually think of the 14th century Black Death, the 1918 Spanish flu, or crippling 18th century smallpox outbreaks. These historic events, which were actually pandemics, not epidemics, due to their widespread nature, are fortunately just that-historic events.
Today, we don’t face the question of whether going to work will expose us to some horrifying disease. Although in some countries there are still epidemics of measles, the vast majority of places where citizens know the merits of and have access to vaccinations see only isolated incidents of diseases which once plagued the entire world.
Why then is there such a polarizing and volatile debate ongoing in Western society about whether to vaccinate children? It is not as if these diseases just disappeared. Part of the problem is a single research paper, published in 1998 by the esteemed medical journal The Lancet. The author of this paper had significant financial interest in discrediting the vaccine that was on the market, and The Lancet retracted the paper in 2010, saying that it had done serious damage to public health.
Of course, there are two sides to every story, and to say that the anti-vaccine movement is fueled by a single discredited study would be grossly misrepresenting the situation. In reality, people aren’t vaccinating their kids because they have found what they consider to be enough evidence against vaccinating, and they cling onto it without stopping to fully consider the overwhelming evidence for vaccinating. Biasing where they gather their evidence and which evidence they give credence to, they are committing the same logical fallacy as deniers of global climate change and creationists. This is a vicious circle in which nobody wins, especially the unvaccinated children who are susceptible to infection. It seems like we’re facing an epidemic of close-mindedness more than anything else.
A Croatian high court recently upheld a law that makes it mandatory for children in its country to get vaccinated, regardless of parental beliefs. While this may topically appear to be a victory for public health, it is in fact just a perpetuation of the epidemic of close-mindedness.
In all U.S. states, schools require an immunization record in order for a child to enroll. In all but two, schools will enroll students whose parents have religious reasons for not vaccinating their child, and 18 accept personal reasons for not vaccinating as valid grounds for exemption from the rule.
Notice that there is no penalty for not vaccinating, and that ultimately, the decision to vaccinate is left up the parents of the child (the beauty of states’ rights-you can always just move to another state). These measures taken by U.S. schools are reasonable, since they are simply strongly encouraging vaccinations, not forcing them on people. Forced medication violates the basic principles upon which not only our country is founded, but basic human rights with which we are all born. A 3-year-old may not be old enough to decide what goes in his or her body, but that doesn’t mean that it’s up to the government to medicate him or her under the pretense of public health concerns.
Don’t get me wrong-vaccination against measles, mumps, pertussis, and now even HPV is certainly a public health concern, and it is the duty of the government to protect its people and to take certain steps to ensure the public health. Governments have been overstepping their bounds for years, however, and the diseases that vaccines prevent are no longer the predominant public health concern of the day. Educating and encouraging parents to vaccinate, not forcing them, is the direction that governments should take.
The real public health concerns we face nowadays are things that we can prevent, but cannot necessarily vaccinate against-drug abuse, insufficient sleep, and heart disease.
People who would impose forced medication are falling into the same trap as “anti-vaccers,” labeling others’ viewpoints as objectively wrong. Let’s start by fighting the epidemic of close-mindedness, and the rest will be (low-fat) cake.