The need to tighten vaccination mandates

The editors of Scientific American magazine have come out with a strong editorial arguing that the present exceptions for vaccinations given to people based on their religious and philosophical beliefs is threatening public health. While many of the people seeking exceptions do so on religious grounds and come from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities or Muslim or Christian academies or alternative-learning institutions, quite a few claim philosophical exemptions because they have been frightened by the refuted study of Andrew Wakefield that has been touted by celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and spread widely over social media.

There isn’t an iota of doubt that vaccines are an overwhelmingly safe and effective way to prevent measles and other diseases, including mumps, rubella, poliomyelitis and pertussis. All 50 states mandate that children entering school get immunized unless they have a medical exemption. Yet almost every state also offers religious exemptions, and more than a dozen offer personal belief/philosophical ones as well. California, Mississippi, West Virginia, Maine and, most recently, New York State have gotten rid of all nonmedical waivers. The others must follow suit. It’s imperative for protecting public health.

Many people who choose not to vaccinate believe no government should force them to put medicine into their bodies or their children’s. They frame the choice as a personal right, but they are not taking into account the rights of others, including their own children, to be free of disease. When it comes to balancing the two, we need to consider the needs of the community as well as those of the individual. The Supreme Court ruled in Jacobson v. Massachusetts that states have the authority to require vaccination against smallpox, and in Prince v. Massachusetts it reaffirmed that the right to religious liberty does not include the right to expose a child or the community to disease.

Some experts argue we should just make it more difficult to obtain religious and philosophical exemptions. But unless the exemptions are removed completely, there will always be people who want to use them. Partial elimination, as the Washington State Senate enacted in the case of philosophical exemptions for the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine alone, is also shortsighted because it sends the message that some immunizations are less important than others. The only surefire solution is to eliminate nonmedical exemptions to recommended vaccines.

People who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons—such as those with compromised immune systems—should of course remain exempt. But there is no legitimate argument against vaccination for the vast majority of healthy people, and there are many powerful arguments in favor of it. Refusing to vaccinate is not a matter of freedom. It’s a matter of public safety.

Of course, convincing people will be almost impossible since they will claim that the push for vaccination is a conspiracy by the medical-pharmaceutical industry in order to make money. The fact that the medical-pharmaceutical industry is greedy and corrupt means that those who try to argue for vaccines on purely scientific grounds have a tough time. The state legislatures really have to act.


  1. says

    Anti-vaxxer ignorance, like religious ignorance, is an inverse / perverse correlation:
    The less the you know, the more you “think” you know.
    The more you know, the more willing to admit how little you know.

    Andrew Fakewield: a fake who claims to wield a medical license, but doesn’t.

  2. sqlrob says

    I think there’s on simple way to increase the rates dramatically, and make the so-called “philosophical” rejections put their money where their mouth is, literally. If your child is not vaccinated (exceptions for those that can’t for valid medical reasons), no child deduction on your taxes. I think compliance rates would go up fairly quickly.

  3. Jenora Feuer says

    Nowhere specifically. (Obviously, since vaccines didn’t exist then.) There are general ‘purity of essence’ sorts of rules as well as some specific rules about what not to put into your body that are sometimes used to argue against vaccines.

    That said, my understanding is that Jewish practice has a fairly common meta-rule that actions taken to preserve life can be forgiven even if other rules were broken in the process; this has been taken to cover vaccination by all but some of the more isolationist ultra-Orthodox. Indeed most Jewish groups consider vaccination an obligation. Yes, this means that even vaccines grown in pig cell lines would be accepted by many (though obviously you’d have to have no other alternative). Islam has a fairly similar meta-rule for that.

    The Catholic Church has explicitly noted that while some vaccines are grown using fetal cell lines and the Church obviously wishes they weren’t, the sin was already committed years ago, and the vaccination is too important to pass up because of that. Again, some of the Sedevacantists may disagree (the official Vatican decree on that post-dates the point at which they think no valid popes have existed). has a pretty detailed breakdown. Basically, almost all of the larger religious groups support vaccination, and the only big dissenters are smaller groups like the Christian Scientists or more extremist subgroups. With some exceptions for things like the HPV vaccine which is opposed by a lot more people due to sex being involved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *