The choice of measles


AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

In this Jan. 29 photo, pediatrician Charles Goodman vaccinates 1-year-old Cameron Fierro with the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, or MMR vaccine, at his practice in Northridge, Calif. The largest measles outbreak in recent memory occurred in Ohio's Amish country where 383 people were sickened last year after several traveled to the Philippines and brought the virus home. While that outbreak got the public's attention, it's nowhere near the level as the latest measles outbreak that originated at Disneyland in December, prompting politicians to weigh in and parents to voice their vaccinations views on Internet message boards.

Editor in Chief Alyssa Foley

American culture has always placed emphasis on values such as freedom and personal choice, as well as duty and social responsibility. When these two sets of values collide, the results can be ugly.

Disneyland is called the happiest place on earth, but the measles outbreak has put a sickly cloud over that happiness. Measles is a serious disease, particularly for children younger than 5 years old. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis or the swelling of the brain and death. Other measles cases have shown up in Nebraska, Minnesota, New York and Marin County, California. The measles was declared wiped out in America 15 years ago, but since then, many parents have refused to vaccinate their children which is causing measles to return.

Parents’ choice not to vaccinate their children against deadly diseases is often based on the belief that vaccines can cause autism. This belief has its origins in a study lead by British gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield, published in 1998 in the medical journal, “The Lancet”. The study was deeply flawed and was later retracted. Among other issues, the subjects were not controlled, assessments were not blind and data was not completely and systematically collected.

Further studies in the UK showed no difference in autism rates among vaccinated and un-vaccinated children, and many other scientific studies debunked the supposed connection between vaccines and autism. Rob Ring, Chief Science Officer at Autism Speaks, states that “The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism. We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.”

Some parents also refuse to vaccinate their children in an effort to provide their children an all-natural and toxin-free life.

I believe the problem lays where the freedom parents have in choosing how they raise their child — in this case, their choice not to vaccinate — causes harm to others. Personal liberty ends where harm to others begins. People are not free to steal, rape and murder because these actions cause serious harm to other human beings. By not vaccinating their children, these parents are not only placing their children in harms way, but they are also putting the lives of other children at risk. Infants too young to receive the vaccine and young cancer patients whose immune systems are too weak for them to be vaccinated are placed in serious danger.

If an infant dies from measles, and the case is traced to an un-vaccinated child, can the parents of the infant sue for involuntary manslaughter? In such a case, the “personal” choice of the parents who chose not to vaccinate their child killed another child.

Now, the parent’s personal choice is no longer personal — it affects all of society. In my opinion, this is the point where duty and social responsibility supersedes liberty and personal choice.

I believe that when these anti-vaccination parents say they don’t want to vaccinate their children for fear it will cause autism, in effect, they are really saying that they would rather risk children dying than risk having an autistic child. When they say they don’t want to vaccinate their children in order to give them a toxin-free life, they are really saying that they would rather risk children dying than possibly risk their child being slightly unhealthy for a while.

Science and modern medicine have worked miracles in eradicating nightmarish diseases like measles. Such progress is being reversed by the actions of a few people with misguided and unfounded beliefs. Anti-vaccine parents should be ashamed. I hope this measles outbreak episode prompts these parents to reconsider their motivation and their choices, and to join the 21st century.