A major outbreak of measles in California has ignited a huge debate over compulsory vaccination in the US.
The outbreak, which appears to have originated in Disneyland theme park at Anaheim, California, led representatives of both major parties to reaffirm a rather vague and non-committal position: there must be a balance between widespread vaccination and the choice of individuals to opt out on the basis of religious or philosophical objections.
"[Vaccinations] are an important part of making sure we protect [kids’] health and public health", said New Jersery governor Chris Christie, a presidential hopeful. "I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. So that’s the balance that the government has to decide."
White House spokesman Josh Ernest said, "The president believes it shouldn’t require a law for people to exercise common sense and do the right thing." He continued, "… This is the right thing for them to do both by their own children, but by also other children in the community. They have a responsibility to do this."
But while federal politicians have stayed at a more theoretical level, state senators have been more zealous in seeking restrictions. California senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer have sent an open letter to the state’s Health and Human Services department, requesting that only children with medical conditions be exempt from vaccination.
"Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children not only put their own family at risk, but they also endanger other families who choose to vaccinate", the senators asserted.
In an article in the National Law Review, Georgetown University health law expert Lawrence O. Gostin argues that the risks of not vaccinating outweigh the importance of personal choice:
“The ethical question is whether a layman's view of vaccine risk, unsupported by evidence, ought to prevail when the consequence of failure to vaccinate is the spread of dangerous, sometimes lethal, diseases…What has happened is that religious and conscientious objectors cluster in distinct neighborhoods, which leads to outbreaks throughout the community. The tragedy of the commons is that if enough people opt out, everyone becomes at risk.”
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