In January 2015, 51 individuals contracted measles at Disneyland in southern California. This outbreak has been the cause of many debates about vaccines, public health, the rights of parents, and the role of the state.
What is a Vaccine?
A vaccine is a product that produces immunity from a disease and can be administered through needle injections, by mouth, or by aerosol. A vaccination is the injection of a killed or weakened organism that produces immunity in the body against that organism. Vaccines attempt to spur the body to make anti-bodies that will fight the weakened strain of the disease, so that if the body is attacked by a stronger strain later in life, it will be able to fight the disease.
What are Vaccines Made Of?
Vaccines are made from bacteria of infected animals or people. There are also at least 23 vaccines that are created from cells of aborted fetuses. Vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, hepatitis and rabies are created from aborted fetuses.
A History of Vaccines
As early as A.D. 1000, Chinese used a vaccine to fight smallpox, and as early as 1661, a Chinese Emperor decreed that all Chinese should receive a smallpox vaccination. During the American Revolution, a smallpox epidemic broke out among Bostonians when British soldiers occupied the city. The British had been inoculated against smallpox. Later that same year, George Washington ordered mandatory inoculation for every American soldier of the Continental Army. In 1796, British doctor Jenner discovered that he could make a person immune from smallpox by inoculating a person with matter from a cowpox sore.
In the 1800s and 1900s, most developed countries of the world adopted laws that made vaccination against certain diseases mandatory. In the United States of America, the Supreme Court ruled in 1905 in Jacobson v. Massachusetts that states had the right to pass vaccination laws. A “well-ordered society” must be able to enforce “reasonable regulations” in responding to “an epidemic disease which threatens the safety of its members,” wrote Justice John Marshall Harlan. The Constitution did not protect “an absolute right in each person to be, in all times and in all circumstances, wholly free from restraint.” The findings of this case have been looked at as the guiding principle in relations of individuals and their state to vaccinations.
Arguments in Favor or Vaccination
The main argument in favor of vaccination appears to be that it works. In 1962, before the measles vaccine was licensed, over 500,000 American children came down with the disease, 48,000 required hospitalization, and 450 died. In 1997, under 100 American children came down with measles. Similar examples exist regarding polio. Polio is a contagious viral illness that causes paralysis, difficulty breathing, and sometimes death. Before the creation of the polio vaccine, the U.S. experienced 20,000 cases per year, primarily in children. After the creation of the polio vaccines in 1952 and 1955 and mandatory vaccinations, polio has been eradicated in the United States, with the last known case occurring in 1979. After a world eradication program of eradicating polio, the numbers of polio illnesses dropped from 350,000 cases in 1988 to 223 cases in 2012.
Arguments Against Vaccination
There are a number of arguments against forced vaccination. One involves the materials used to create the vaccines. In at least 23 vaccines, cells from aborted fetuses are used to create the vaccines. For those who are against abortion and believe that the unborn life should be protected, the use of materials from the aborted fetuses presents a moral problem of great magnitude.
Another argument against forced vaccination involves the great number of vaccinations that each child attending an American school is supposed to have. Each vaccination has its own possibly grave side effects. As the number of required vaccinations grow, the number of individuals hurt by these side effects will grow, as well. According to the Center for Disease and Control (CDC), the U.S. federal agency charged with America’s health, there are 14 diseases that young children under 6 need to be vaccinated for. For 7-18 year olds, the CDC recommends at least 14 more vaccines. Many parents question the need for each of the vaccines. One vaccine is for a disease that is spread through sexual activity.
What is Herd Immunity?
Herd immunity is a belief, or theory, that states when a certain percentage of people in society are vaccinated, then there is a lower chance of a disease spreading. Because some people are unable to be vaccinated against some diseases, either because they are too young, or too weak, many doctors believe that it is essential that most are vaccinated so that herd immunity be maintained. However, there are also those who disagree with the validity of the idea of herd immunity.
Dr. Andrew Wakefield, Vaccination, and Autism
In 1998, British Dr. Wakefield wrote an article in The Lancet that claimed there was a link between measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism. In the western world, many believed this claim to be authoritative, and in the United States, some parents chose not to have their children inoculated. In California, politically liberal citizens living in areas that tend to vote Democrat were the most affected, including Marin County, Santa Monica, and Beverly Hills, as parents chose a philosophical exemption to vaccinating their children.
Dr. Wakefield’s study was shown to be fraudulent, he was on the payroll of attorneys wanting to sue the government, and in 2010 he lost his medical license. Great Britain’s medical regulator ruled that Dr. Wakefield acted dishonestly and irresponsibly. It appears that Dr. Wakefield based his entire study on 12 children, and he misrepresented these 12 children, as well. However, the effects of his study still are being felt.
An outbreak of measles in January 2015 at Disneyland, California, has been the cause of great discussions involving disease, vaccination, and the role of government and public safety. Americans argue over the importance of vaccinations and the power of the state.
1. What is a vaccine and how do doctors believe it works?
2. What is the first known use of a vaccine?
3. What do people who support vaccines say is the main reason all should be vaccinated against certain diseases?
4. What are the main reasons people have against forced vaccination?
5. What role do you think the government has in mandating vaccination?