Measles has been allowed to make a comeback largely because many parents choose not to have their children vaccinated. Those unfortunate choices jeopardize not only the children of those parents, but very young children of other parents and vulnerable persons who are unable to be vaccinated. In Wisconsin, those choices are permitted by a law providing exemption from vaccination requirements simply based on “personal conviction”.
Despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, many of these parents subscribe to the notion that vaccines cause autism. Disturbingly, President Trump appears to agree, and he may be considering an anti-vaccine advocate to chair a task force to address the subject. Fortunately, countering that notion is a recently-released bipartisan Congressional letter of vaccine support.
We have a long and cherished history in this country of protecting the rights of individuals, including the freedom to make personal choices. But we also have a long and cherished history acknowledging the rare circumstances where the health of the community takes precedence over the rights of individuals. Over 100 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a vaccination case involving smallpox that there are “restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good. On any other basis, organized society could not exist with safety to its members.”
We have enjoyed healthy lives, free from dreaded infectious diseases, because individuals and families historically took it upon themselves to be vaccinated. If they failed to do so, communities and states required vaccination in the interest of everyone’s health. We need to remember where we’ve been. It is bad public policy to permit parents to jeopardize the health of their children and other vulnerable persons in the community by permitting an exemption based on “personal conviction.” As individuals and communities, we need to acknowledge our collective responsibility for everyone’s health and insist that the state Legislature roll back the harmful “personal conviction” exemption law, joining the majority of states disallowing such an exemption.
Wisconsin Statutes Section 252.04: http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/252/04
Anti-Vaccine Activist Says Trump Wants Him to Lead Panel on Immunization Safety, New York Times, January 10, 2017:
Congressional Group Gives Bipartisan Support to Vaccine Safety, WebMD Health Day News, February 21, 2017:
Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905):
State Law & Vaccine Requirements, National Vaccine Information Center: http://www.nvic.org/vaccine-laws/state-vaccine-requirements.aspx