Measles and Freedom

The highly contagious, rash-inducing virus “measles” has recently inflamed the vaccination debate in scientific and political spheres. Stemming from a Disneyland outbreak in Anaheim, California in December 2014, over one hundred individuals in fourteen states have now been infected with the respiratory disease, according to the Center for Disease Control. This issue poses a challenge to the GOP as many conservatives find themselves stuck deciding between whether the government should enforce vaccination because of the medical evidence that it is extremely effective in prevention, or giving individuals the free will and ability to choose for themselves whether or not they will partake in this precautionary procedure.

This fear of vaccination stems from a false study published in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield suggesting that the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine causes autism. Once the study was published, it was retracted when no scientific evidence was found supporting its claims. However, many families around the world turned away from vaccines because of this fraudulent data, and so infectious diseases that had long lost their relevance soon were able to reappear in populations. The anti-vaccination movement has now been inflamed with a growing “organic” movement, where individuals focus on only consuming “natural” substances. Many people still elect not to vaccinate their children because they fear the “unnatural” substances found in some of the vaccines.

The problem with vaccination is that one individual’s decision can have life-altering consequences on others. Within populations, if enough people are vaccinated against a certain disease, the pathogen will have so few hosts to infect that it will be unable to survive in that area. This phenomenon is known as “herd immunity.” However, when people are not vaccinated the viruses are able to flourish in areas where they were once non-existent. Individuals that refuse to vaccinate their children not only put their own kids in danger, but also many others at risk for infection and sometimes even death. The question remains however, at what point should one’s personal freedom be restricted if it inhibits the freedom of others?

Governor Chris Christie came out this week in favor of parent’s freedom to choose whether or not to vaccinate their children. However, the medical community was outraged when they heard his claim that the government should remain relatively uninvolved. Trying to align with the core beliefs of his conservative voters on the importance of freedom, liberty and less government interference in daily life, Christie angered physicians and epidemiologists who understand the importance of vaccination in protecting all people, especially children. While his emphasis on freedom resounded with many other members of the Republican Party, it is important to note that the potential repercussions of this liberty to decide could include death from a completely preventable disease. While an individual should have this personal freedom to choose whether or not to vaccinate their own family, how should society at large deal with the implications that come from such a decision? If your choice against vaccinating your children causes mine to fall ill or die, you have taken away my happiness, my liberty, and their right to life.

So, give me liberty or give me measles?

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