Parents, Politicians and Vaccination

Hira Humayun '17 Assistant Features Editor

The debate regarding whether vaccination for children should be voluntary or compulsory has gained momentum in the political arena. Recently, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) voiced their beliefs that vaccines are entirely voluntary. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, made her opposing view very clear on Twitter on Feb. 2. She tweeted: “The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let’s protect all our kids. #GrandmothersKnowBest.”

The former Secretary of State’s comments came at a time when a measles outbreak had recently affected over 100 people in the United States. It is not surprising, then, that she would express these views in the interest of the health and well-being of the country. She emphasized her position as a grandmother as well as a politician, thus appealing to the parental instincts of citizens all over the country in attempt to get them to advocate for vaccinations for all children. Paul, however, argued that vaccinations should be the choice of the parents and that it is “an issue of freedom.” He cited knowing of cases in which vaccines have had negative effects on a child’s well-being.

President Obama has also expressed his belief that children should be vaccinated. California’s Department of Public Health held records for 34 people who were affected with measles and only five of them had received both doses of the measles vaccine. Though this may point out the importance of vaccinations, this statistic also potentially supports the other side of the debate, suggesting that vaccinations should be voluntary as they are not always completely effective.

Though it can be argued that choice, when it comes to vaccines, is a critical freedom, Clinton and Obama’s comments towards vaccines seem to express national interest. When a child is affected by measles, it is not just the child who suffers. By exercising freedom and choosing not to vaccinate their own child, parents can potentially put other children at risk as well, and their choice begins to tamper with the well-being of others. In order to contain and then eradicate such an outbreak, it is crucial to tackle it from the grassroots level.

If such an issue is not dealt with, not only will this outbreak spread further within the country, but travel will become increasingly dangerous as people traveling from the United States could potentially infect those overseas. Even within the country, if institutions such as schools, universities and workplaces do not make it mandatory for their students and employees to be vaccinated, students would be discouraged from going to school, pro-vaccination parents might be hesitant to send their children to school, and employees could be hesitant to go to work.

Those that hold that vaccines are linked to autism and thus refuse to vaccinate their children put them at risk for disease. In such cases parents are faced with a lose-lose situation, especially since researchers have failed to find a strong link between vaccines and the development of mental disorders. Clearly, we need better research. We should incentivize parents to vaccinate their children by conducting more thorough research regarding its benefits. This would help ease parents with reservations about vaccines, and help them understand that what is best for their children is also what is best for people all over the country.