What does society do when one person's behavior puts the greater community at risk? We make them stop. We pass laws, or impose economic rules or find some other way to discourage individual behaviors that threaten the greater common good. You don't get to drive drunk. You don't get to smoke in public places. You don't even get to leave your house if you catch some particularly infectious disease.
The evidence is overwhelming that declining vaccination rates are contributing to outbreaks of disease. Take just one example, measles. The World Health Organization reports outbreaks in countries where vaccination rates have gone down, including France (7,000 cases so far this year, more than in all of 2010), Belgium, Germany, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Macedonia and Turkey. There have already been 334 measles cases in England and Wales this year, compared with 33 all of last year. The U.S. has seen 118 cases as of mid-May, compared with 56 cases a year from 2001 to 2008.
Small numbers, you say? True, but consider their cost (beyond the suffering of the patients), as illustrated in this case published this year by the Oxford Journals. When a woman from Switzerland who had not been vaccinated for measles visited Tucson in 2008 and became symptomatic, she went to a local hospital for medical attention. This initiated a chain of events that over the next three months led to at least 14 people, including seven kids, getting measles. Seven of the victims caught the disease while visiting healthcare facilities. Four people had to be hospitalized. The outbreak cost two local hospitals a total of nearly $800,000, and the state and local health departments tens of thousands more, to track down the cases, quarantine and treat the sick and notify the thousands of people who might have been exposed.
There are many potential solutions, each fraught with pros and cons and details that require careful thought and open democratic discussion.
• Perhaps it should be harder to opt out of vaccination. (Twenty-one states allow parents to decline vaccination of their children simply for "philosophical" reasons; 48 allow a religious exemption, but few demand documentation from parents to support claims that their faith precludes vaccination.)
• Perhaps there should be higher healthcare and insurance costs for unvaccinated people, or "healthy behavior" discounts for people who do get vaccinated, paid for from what society saves by avoiding the spread of disease.
• There could be restrictions on the community and social activities in which unvaccinated people can participate, like lengthy school trips for kids,etc.
Read all about it: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-ropeik-vaccines-20110718,0,4240440.story
On the "Step away from the candy" thread there was a lot of discussion about government interference in people's lives. I'm wondering what people think about this kind of interference.
Our constitution doesn't allow one to be singled out for taxation just for not doing something.
This is one area where I welcome government intrusion.