WONG: Mandate vaccination for everyone

Individuals who refuse to vaccinate for non-medical reasons selfishly endanger society

op-Vaccine-CourtesyWikimediaCommons

Vaccines for different communicable diseases, when widely used, have greatly reduced rates of infection.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons | Cavalier Daily

Vaccinations have served as a cornerstone of public health and safety thanks to their exceptional effectiveness in preventing the spread of infectious disease. The announcement of a safe and effective polio vaccine by Dr. Jonas Salk’s team in 1955  has proven directly responsible for eradicating the polio virus in the United States — a disease which previously crippled some 35,000 Americans each year. Despite the multiple societal benefits achieved through vaccination, however, nearly 10 percent of Americans — including the President of the United States — have expressed doubt over the safety of vaccines. In doing so, these selfish individuals threaten the public health of society at large, causing preventable outbreaks of diseases once previously under control.

Today, only three states — California, Mississippi and West Virginia — do not allow non-medical exemptions to vaccines. In particular, Mississippi’s strict vaccination laws have made it a leader in vaccination rates. Such laws have had a discernible impact on protecting public health. A report by The Washington Post noted that, in a map containing data of vaccine-preventable outbreaks, “the face of the United States looks like it’s suffering from a severe case of chickenpox. But the complexions of Mississippi and West Virginia are clear.”

The idea of imposing penalties for non-vaccination is not a new idea. Australia, which has some of the world’s strictest vaccination laws, has “introduced legislation that would ban the enrollment of unvaccinated children in preschool and child care centers.” The U.S. federal government should follow the example set by other countries and its own states. There are a multitude of routes that the United States could take to mandate vaccination, including requiring vaccinations to attend public schools and imposing financial incentives or penalties.

Unfortunately, the implementation of a mandatory vaccination policy might spawn new, perhaps unforeseen, issues. Vaccination costs have skyrocketed in recent years, and could create a vaccination program which may be unaffordable. Mandating certain vaccinations could carry the possibility of disadvantaging the poor. From an ideological perspective, one may argue that mandatory vaccination runs counterintuitive to the idea of “personal choice,” the concept that a person should have his or her freedom to choose whatever medical procedures he or she prefers.

Although vaccination pricing is an issue, the United States already has policies in place to address parts of this problem. The Vaccines for Children program is a “federally funded program that provides vaccines at no cost to children who might not otherwise be vaccinated because of inability to pay.” Expanding this program to benefit all Americans, instead of just those who are younger than 19, would undoubtedly aid in vaccinating the poor and disadvantaged. While mandatory vaccination may take away some notion of “bodily autonomy,” non-vaccination carries greater societal consequences which outweigh the cost of disrupting one’s personal choices. Choosing not to vaccinate for nonmedical reasons is an incredibly selfish choice. In choosing not to vaccinate, the principle of herd immunity is rendered void.

Those who choose not to vaccinate for non-medical reasons threaten the safety of the general populace, seen recently in the 2015 outbreak of measles in California. By mandating the vaccination of all individuals — regardless of religious or personal beliefs — the United States would take an important step in protecting public health and safety. To this end, the United States should adopt a mandatory vaccination policy.

William Wong is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com

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