Vaccination should be mandatory for all

A parent's decision to withhold vaccination affects public health

My mother taught me never to criticize another family’s parenting style. She said that it was ultimately the decision of the father or mother to rear their children in whichever way they saw fit. In most instances, her advice holds true. However, in the case of the anti-immunization movement, not only should parents be criticized for their neglectful behavior, but government intervention should supersede parental autonomy. Vaccination must be mandatory.

The vaccination debate is a classic example of the “tragedy of the commons” scenario. The absence of disease is a public good enjoyed by the American people due to a calculated joint effort by the scientists who develop vaccines and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which executes the vaccination program. Unfortunately, some citizens free-ride by choosing to opt out of vaccination for either religious or pseudo-scientific reasons. This behavior is unacceptable, as herd immunity is required to stop outbreaks of disease. About 95 percent of the population must be vaccinated to meet herd immunity standards.

Proponents of the anti-immunization movement spread misinformation and do so at a dangerous cost. The most recent example of the anti-immunization effort is the purported link between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism. It is understandable that parents with children suffering from autism would look for an external source to explain the ailment. The diagnosis of autism is rising at an unprecedented rate, and we still do not fully understand the cause for the disease. The link was first reported in a study published in British medical journal Lancet in 1998. The study was conducted on a mere 12 children, with no control group. The study has since been retracted, and following studies demonstrated there is no evidence to support the claim; however, celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy continue to defend the link and spread lies through television and Internet forums.

The effects of spreading such misinformation are now coming to light. Even though the anti-immunization movement has lost credibility, there is a rise in measles outbreaks in the United States and Canada, with 187 cases reported in the U.S. alone in 2013. In Canada, the outbreaks center around religious enclaves, with the vaccination rate as low as 70 percent in some areas.

There is only so much that education can do to encourage parents to comply with vaccination, and coercion is the next logical step in addressing this important public health issue. Though we tout the U.S. as the home of the free, there are necessary limits to our personal “freedom.” We have laws to govern hunting, crime and education. Citizens pay taxes against their own will in order to enjoy the benefits of living in this polity. The CDC requires incoming immigrants to be vaccinated against disease. If we require immigrants to be vaccinated, it should not be considered such a radical notion to require our own citizens to do the same.

Views expressed in the opinion pages represent the opinions of the columnists.