By: Allison M. Whelan, Senior Fellow, Center for Biotechnology & Global Health Policy, University of California, Irvine School of Law, Guest Blogger
For many years now, there has been ongoing debate about childhood vaccinations and the recent measles outbreak in Disneyland and its subsequent spread to other states has brought vaccinations and questions about communicable diseases back to the headlines. Politicians, including potential presidential candidates such as Hilary Clinton, Rand Paul, and Chris Christie, are also wading back into the debate.
Most recently, five babies who attend a suburban Chicago daycare center were diagnosed with the measles. As a result, anyone in contact with these infants who has not received the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine must remain home, essentially quarantined, for the next twenty-one days—the incubation period for measles. All five of these infants were under the age of one and therefore did not yet have the chance to receive the vaccination, which is not administered until one year of age.
The Chicago outbreak is a prime example of why public health officials emphasize the reliance on herd immunity to protect those who are not yet, or cannot be, vaccinated for legitimate reasons. Unfortunately, the United States has reached a period where it can no longer place much reliance on herd immunity, particularly as more parents decide not to vaccinate their children against very contagious, yet highly preventable diseases. Illness and death are two of life’s certainties, but why should they be given that they are preventable in this situation? What are the strongest, most rational arguments in this debate? What policy solutions should states consider? Several options have been proposed over the years, some more feasible and likely than others. Continue reading