The existence of human beings on earth and their ability to live in harmony is a very delicate balance that rests upon the actions of each member. On the world scale, international conflict is at an all-time low, and the people of the earth are cohabitating in a way that has never been so efficacious. Over time, procedures for the most advantageous ways to provide resources to people and overcome challenges that occur are constantly advancing. One example of the achievement of humans to work towards overcoming the challenge of disease is the development of vaccines. The utilization of these life-saving vaccines are undoubtedly essential for healthy children and a healthy population.
A breakthrough discovery made by Edward Jenner in the 1790s found that by inoculating a boy with a small dosage of the vaccinia virus, commonly known as cowpox, the boy was able to develop an immunity to smallpox. Over the course of the succeeding 200 years, and with extreme momentum during the 1900s, vaccines have revolutionized healthcare. Diseases that once eliminated millions of lives now have been completely wiped off the earth. When our grandparents were teenagers, contracting malaria, rubella, chickenpox or polio were completely plausible concerns. Today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the chances of contracting these diseases have all dropped by over 90 percent, and further studies and breakthroughs are invigorating the fight to eradicate major diseases forever.
Unfortunately, there is one problem that is attempting to lay siege to the fight towards universal eradication of diseases. That problem is the anti-vaccination movement. The movement appeared in the United States in the 1980s when people began to believe that reactions patients were experiencing could be linked to vaccines they had received. Then, in 1998, British doctor Andrew Wakefield published a study that ascertained a correlation between the vaccination of children and their development of autism. Following epidemiological studies, Wakefield’s study was entirely discredited due to serious procedural issues and biases. According to the US National Library of Medicine, “no causal link was established between the [Measles, Mumps, Rubella] vaccine and autism as the data were insufficient.” Further studies conducted have yet to confirm the claim that vaccines cause autism.
Another common argument is the concern over the ingredients included in vaccines. It cannot be denied that vaccines contain mercury, formaldehyde and aluminum, as these ingredients are listed plainly on the package inserts of vaccines. When anti-vaccine pediatrician Dr. Lawrence Palevsky spoke at a legislative informational forum in Connecticut in November of 2019, he explained that aluminum functions as an emulsifier in vaccines, attaching to certain particles and allowing them to be easily absorbed into the body. However, the amount of aluminum actually present in vaccines is a small fraction of a milligram. This amount is put into perspective when you learn that the median daily intake of aluminum from the air we breathe and the food we eat is approximately 24 milligrams.
During his speech, Dr. Palevsky also was certain to note some statistics about the prevalence of chronic conditions in children today versus about 40 years ago. One example he provides is that today, one in five children are learning disabled, whereas one in seventeen children were learning disabled in 1976. Dr. Palevsky neglects to cite any study that proves the relation between the vaccines and the conditions, and instead assumes that the higher prevalence rates of conditions are caused by the widespread use of vaccines. Correlation does not equal causation. Simply because one event succeeded another does not mean the second event is a consequence of the first.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all 50 states require children to be vaccinated in order to attend school, unless they have a medical exemption such as an immunodeficiency disorder. Currently, 45 states also allow for religious exemptions for vaccinating children. The anti-vaccination movement holds that since the government may not take away the First Amendment right of parents to exercise religious belief, they believe that it is their right to be able to refrain from vaccinating their children. In recent years, the number of parents claiming the religious exemption for vaccinations has increased by about 25 percent. The problem is that the decision to not vaccinate children contains externality: it not only has an impact on the unvaccinated child, but on the people who come in contact with children who are not vaccinated. Abandoning vaccines also undermines the concept of herd immunity, the notion that the community is safer when the greater whole is safeguarded against infectious diseases.
For this reason, the Supreme Court has consistently upheld the government’s ability to mandate vaccines, most notably in Jacobson v. Massachusetts of 1905. Looking toward political philosophy, it was philosopher John Stuart Mill who said, “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” Regardless, the anti-vaccination movement firmly suggests that the government has no place in the decision of parents to inject their children, and that this interference creates an unethical association between the government and the pharmaceutical industry. Anyone who agrees with this must also agree that the same unethical association is created between the government and the motor vehicle industry in Connecticut General Statute 14-100a, which mandates that all vehicles purchased must be equipped with seatbelts, and that the seatbelts must be worn during transit. Even though some argue that seat belts cause more harm than good during collisions, the law still stands. We should not rule out the rise of an anti-seat belt movement.
It is impossible to deny that vaccines achieve their goal of reducing the chance of contracting a disease. Even if there was significant research that supported the notion that vaccines may cause certain conditions in extremely rare cases, should we really abandon vaccinations at the cost of reintroducing serious diseases into the world and defecting from all the progress immunology has made? When you consider the benefits of vaccines and the fact that they have saved millions of lives over the years, the risks do not seem as problematic. Even further, the absence of research to support a plethora of conjecture, challenges whether those risks are even worth considering. By choosing to not vaccinate children, we jeopardize the ability of the entire world to live in harmony. Even worse, for some we jeopardize the ability for them to even live at all.