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San Diego Measles Outbreak: Should parents be compelled to vaccinate their children?

Posted Dec 23 2008 1:03pm

This American Life has a very interesting show about the San Diego measles outbreak.  Outbreaks decades ago were due to the fact that poor individuals often could not afford to get vaccinated or see a doctor.  Now, this is not a problem since vaccines are generally made available for free for those who cannot pay.  It was rich parents in San Diego who did not get their child vaccinated.

Most parents who do not get their child vaccinated fail to do so because they are worried about the side effects. An 1998 article in the journal Lancet claimed that there was a connection between between MMR vaccination and autism; however , this claim has been refuted and the article has been retracted.  Still, I do sympathize somewhat with these parents.  Even if there is no scientific evidence that vaccination and autism are linked, I understand the parents concern.  Further, I am sympathetic to the attitude that you shouldn’t always just do what people tell you.  However…

The story also shows the side effects of what happens when all kids aren’t vaccinated.  This American Life recounts the story of parents who’s child got the measles.  Most kids receive the MMR vaccine around 1 year of age, so babies younger than twelve months are susceptible to the disease.  The parents recount their harrowing tale of how they help their child in their arms for hours at a time, afraid if they led him lay down his heart would stop beating.  They said that they could not comment in any vaccination related debate since they would become so enraged at the individuals who did not vaccinate that they would lose their friendship.

Overall, I believe that it is right to compel parents to vaccinate their children.  Even if vaccinating would confer some small risk to individual children, the overall benefit to society from the reduction in contagious diseases far outweighs the individual costs.

This American Life Synoposis: “ When they decided not to vaccinate their son against measles, two San Diego parents thought they were making the best decision for their child. But when the 7-year-old came home from an overseas trip suffering from the disease (pictured at left: measles virus), his family’s personal decision became a whole community’s problem. The resulting outbreak infected 11 children and endangered many others.

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