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Vaccinations: Personal Choice or Public Policy?

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In 1998 a British doctor named Andrew Wakefield published a study claiming that autism in 12 British children was linked to them being vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).  Even though Wakefield’s study was subsequently found to be an elaborate fraud, and no scientific evidence has been found to this day linking vaccinations to autism, the anti-vaccination movement was born and is still growing.  Due to anti-vaxxers, as they are called, delaying or skipping the vaccinations for their children, previously eradicated diseases such as measles and whooping cough (pertussis) have seen a resurgence in this country and throughout the developed world.

    Schools allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children by way of a “personal belief exemption.”  Private schools can haven vaccination rates of less than 20%–fewer than 1 in 5 children has been vaccinated against such life threatening and preventable diseases as polio, measles, whooping cough, and meningitis. In order for a school to be considered immunized from a public health standpoint, it must have a 90% or higher vaccination rate.  Your Denver Personal Injury Attorney notes that Colorado has a 4.0-5.9% exemption rate from vaccines.  In the 2012–2013 school year, approximately 4.3 % of children were excused from vaccinations–one of the highest rates in the country.  Colorado Department of Health is considering making it more difficult to claim the exemption by requiring education and consultation before a parent can have their child opt out of vaccinations.

    Not surprisingly, areas that have high rates of exemptions correlate with outbreaks of once eradicated diseases.  For instance, investigators concluded that California’s worst outbreak of whooping cough in 2010 began by when the virus was spread among unvaccinated children and went on to infect 9,210 people.  Your Denver Personal Injury Attorney argues that this is where personal choice–the personal belief exemption–runs squarely into public health policy.  Choosing not to vaccinate your child does not put only your child at risk; babies who cannot yet be vaccinated, adults whose vaccines may be losing efficacy, and people with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients are all at risk when “herd  immunity” fails to be established.  “Herd immunity” is achieved with a vaccination rate of 95% or higher, meaning that even those who are not vaccinated or whose vaccines are not effective are still protected due to such extremely low exposure rates.  The United States and other developed countries have relied on herd immunity to keep diseases such as polio, measles, mumps, and whooping cough virtually non-existent since the vaccines were first introduced.  But with anti-vaxxers decreasing the vaccination rate to below herd immunity rates, what can be done to protect people at risk?

    Now that these once eradicated diseases are surfacing again, some argue that the public health implications outweigh personal choice–especially when their is no credible science to back up the belief that vaccinations cause or are in any way linked to autism.  To that end, public health organizations advocate community outreach programs designed to get everyone in a community vaccinated, one community at a time.  This approach, combined with a massive education campaign that both debunks the notion that vaccines are harmful and points out the very real risks of not getting vaccinated is a strategy that most medical ethicists embrace.  However, some go further: Bioethicist Arthur Caplan proposes that people who contract one of these preventable illnesses be able to sue the “anti-vaxxers” who caused the disease by not having their children vaccinated.  While this approach may present issues with causation–who carried the disease to which victim–the imposition of liability may be the wake up call needed for public schools and public institutions to put public health over personal beliefs.

    Denver Personal Injury Attorney Jordan Levine has years of experience in the field of personal injury law from vehicle accidents to product liability. If you have a question about your options for filing a personal injury suit, contact the offices of Levine Law today.