The case against personal and religious vaccine exemptions

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Last spring, the U.S. experienced the worst measles outbreak in 25 years. Over 1,000 cases were reported in 28 states, including a case in northeast Iowa. Measles is an easily preventable viral infection if people receive the M.M.R. vaccine. Despite the effectiveness and  accessibility of the M.M.R. vaccine, many people opt not to get the vaccine. Although most measles cases are not fatal, this infection can be life threatening to people with compromised immune systems. People who decide to not get vaccinated for religious or personal reasons create a serious threat to those who have compromised immune systems or are medically unable to get vaccinated. By not receiving recommended vaccines for either religious or personal reasons ignores the wellbeing of those who have medical conditions that prohibit them from getting vaccines. 

Vaccines are not only intended to decrease the likelihood of an individual from becoming sick, but also to reduce the chance a certain illness from spreading to others. When a large group of people do not get vaccinated, we experience preventable outbreaks like the one last spring. Conversely, when the majority of people get vaccinated, herd immunity is achieved. Herd immunity is reached when a sufficient number of people in a community have received a certain vaccine. Herd immunity rates fluctuate between roughly 90 to 95%, depending on the sickness. Yet herd immunity for some illnesses, like measles, has recently been dangerously low. Herd immunity is crucial because it makes it unlikely, if not impossible, for a disease to spread in a community and ensures that people with compromised immune systems do not develop potentially fatal illnesses. 

Some proponents of vaccine exemptions point to unfounded conspiracy theories, such as the fabricated “research” conducted by the discredited Bristish doctor Andrew Wakefield who manufactured the incorrect belief that vaccines cause autism. To hold the research of a disgraced doctor over the general consensus in the medical establishment follows a similar line of logic as denying climate change. In both cases, people who deny climate change and those who believe that vaccines are ineffective or dangerous are rejecting the overwhelming evidence in order to continue a fabricated narrative.

Yet there is also evidence to suggest that the medical establishment supports mandating certain vaccines. According to Pew Research Center poll conducted in 2014, 86% of scientists who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science support mandatory vaccines. And no, the other 14% did not believe that vaccines are dangerous. This is not to say that there have never been instances where vaccines have resulted in health complications. But such an occurrence is rare, and the overall benefits of achieving herd immunity outweighs the unlikely chance that a person will experience adverse side effects. 

However, a more common argument against mandatory vaccines is that they violate individual, parental, and religious freedoms. But requiring people, especially children, to receive vaccinations is not a severe violation of individual liberties. Rolling back personal and religious vaccine exemptions serves a compelling interest in ensuring that preventable diseases do not spread and become an epidemic, especially since it is incredibly unlikely that a ‘shot’ will cause serious health complications. 

 Opinions expressed in columns and letters are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Chips or organizations with which the author(s) are associated

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