There has been much debate recently over vaccination mandates, particularly in response to the measles outbreak currently taking place throughout the country.
At this juncture, there have been 102 confirmed measles cases in the U.S. during 2015, with 59 of them linked to a December 2014 visit to the Disneyland theme park in Southern California. (It is important to note that 11 of the cases associated with Disneyland were detected last year and, consequently, fall within the 2014 measles count.) This large outbreak has spread to at least a half-dozen other states, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently requesting that all health care professionals “consider measles when evaluating patients with febrile rash and ask about a patient’s vaccine status, recent travel history and contact with individuals who have febrile rash illness.”
One must understand that there is no specific antiviral therapy for measles and that 90 percent of those who are not vaccinated will contract measles if they are indeed exposed to the virus. This explains why Arizona health officials are monitoring more than 1,000 people after potential exposure to measles. These are pretty staggering numbers that should concern not only parents and children, but also the general populace.
I have been asked many times throughout the past week for my thoughts concerning the issue of vaccines. The important thing is to make sure the public understands that there is no substantial risk from vaccines and that the benefits are very significant. Although I strongly believe in individual rights and the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit, I also recognize that public health and public safety are extremely important in our society. Certain communicable diseases have been largely eradicated by immunization policies in this country. We should not allow those diseases to return by forgoing safety immunization programs for philosophical, religious or other reasons when we have the means to eradicate them.
Obviously, there are exceptional situations to virtually everything, and we must have a mechanism whereby those can be heard. Nevertheless, there is public policy and health policy that we have to pay attention to regarding this matter.
We already have policies in place at schools that require immunization records — this is a positive thing. Studies have shown over the course of time that the risk-benefit ratio for vaccination is grossly in favor of being vaccinated as opposed to not.
There is no question that immunizations have been effective in eliminating diseases such as smallpox, which was devastating and lethal. When you have diseases that have been demonstrably curtailed or eradicated by immunization, why would you even think about not doing it? Certain people have discussed the possibility of potential health risks from vaccinations. I am not aware of scientific evidence of a direct correlation. I think there probably are people who may make a correlation where one does not exist, and that fear subsequently ignites, catches fire and spreads. But it is important to educate the public about what evidence actually exists.
I am very much in favor of parental rights for certain types of things. I am in favor of you and I having the freedom to drive a car. But do we have a right to drive without wearing our seatbelts? Do we have a right to text while we are driving? Studies have demonstrated that those are dangerous things to do, so it becomes a public safety issue. You have to be able to distinguish our rights versus the rights of the society in which we live, because we are all in this thing together. We have to be cognizant of the other people around us, and we must always bear in mind the safety of the population. That is key, and that is one of the responsibilities of government.
I am a small-government person, and I greatly oppose government intrusion into everything. Still, it is essential that we distinguish between those things that are important and those things that are just intruding upon our basic privacy. Whether to participate in childhood immunizations would be an individual choice if individuals were the only ones affected, but as previously mentioned, our children are part of our larger community. None of us lives in isolation. Your decision does not affect only you — it also affects your fellow Americans.
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Dr. Ben S. Carson is professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University and author of the new book, One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future.