In a world where personal autonomy has more importance than ever, anything that threatens it is immediately mired in controversy. Even things that are meant to help individuals rather than hinder them are called into question, and such is the case with vaccinations. Right now, vaccinations are a choice in the United States. Citizens can choose to be vaccinated or not and parents can also decide for their children, as it is part of the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution.
Sometimes, people refuse vaccinations for religious reasons. Other times, they just do not trust the science behind vaccines or simply cannot be bothered. Citizens deserve the right to decide.
There is a catch-22, a dilemma where either choice—making all vaccinations mandatory or letting people have the freedom to decide for themselves—has an equally troubling outcome. It is essentially a choice between letting people die, or taking away their personal autonomy. There may, however, be another option: a middle ground that can appease both parties.
Mandatory vaccinations must apply, but only to certain populations. For example, only certain vaccinations should be mandatory depending on demographic categories and geographic locations. That way, disease prevention in areas that need it can be tackled and people can still maintain most of their autonomy. Straddling this line may be the only viable solution.
After all, both sides of the issue make valid arguments. Outbreaks of measles struck Europe this year. During January and February, there were over 1,500 reports of measles across 14 European countries. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control attributed this outbreak to “an accumulation of unvaccinated individuals.”
The European Union’s health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, expressed his outrage over the situation stating, “It is unacceptable to hear that children and adults are dying from disease where safe vaccines are available.” It does seem cruel to let people choose to be vulnerable to measles when there has long been a way to prevent it. For example, the rotavirus kills 600 children in Africa every day, despite the fact that there has been a breakthrough made with a vaccine for the disease.
Nonetheless, many still appeal to pseudoscience to justify their opposition to vaccinations. For instance, a writer for the Healthy Home Economist, who comes from a family of medical professionals, offers her six reasons to oppose vaccines, often citing the International Journal of Vaccines and Vaccinations. Her findings report that some vaccines have traces of mercury and metals like aluminum in them. The article merely appeals to popular statements that are meant to set off alarms in readers’ minds.
Another popular rebuttal against mandatory vaccinations is herd immunity, which posits that to provide immunity to an entire population against a contagious disease, 85-95 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated.
Beyond those vaccinated, others will be okay without immunization because they reside inside of a community where no one can catch that disease as a result of the predominately protected population.
While this argument sounds legitimate, proponents fail to realize that the problem, like with the recent measles outbreak, is that a high percentage of the population is no longer vaccinated at rates that would allow herd immunity to be effective today. Add this to the fact that so many people travel and carry the disease with them, and it is possible, if not likely, that a pandemic may occur.
Vaccines are simply and plainly necessary, but it is improbable that they will become mandatory with the amount of doubt still lingering. The only solution is to reach a compromise and decide which areas need them the most and which populations are particularly vulnerable. Only then can an agreement can be made to make vaccines necessary in certain cases.