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Measles Outbreak Ignites Vaccine Controversy

Should the government require vaccinations over parental objections?

By Brynn Wilson
On February 27, 2015

A continuing spread of the measles virus ensures that immunization will be a political topic among 2016 presidential nominees. Politicians are already debating whether requiring vaccines for children falls under state’s rights or personal freedom. The anti-vaccination movement has evolved on such a grand scale as to hold a place on the countries’ political agenda. No stranger to the fight for state involvement in health is Gov. Rick Perry. In 2007 he placed an executive order which mandated all sixth grade girls be vaccinated against HPV – a virus shown to be linked to cervical cancer. The order was quickly overturned by legislature. This month Gov. Perry again encouraged state involvement in public health, in an interview with both The Texas Tribune and The Washington Post. “I think governors, elected officials, people in positions of authority and power and influence, should use those positions to make sure that the people they either represent or have the opportunity to work for are as healthy as they can be,” Gov. Perry said. “Obviously vaccines are a very important part of that.” Texas State Rep. Jason Villalba is electing to narrow the conscientious objection clause. “Conscientious objection” is a clause in state legislature which applies to families whose parents opt out of otherwise mandatory immunization laws. Due to philosophical motives, religious beliefs and medical reasons parents can sign a waiver which omits their children from vaccinations. Rep. Villalba is lobbying for the removal of religious beliefs. The Hastings Center --a non-partisan health organization-- says this concept is “ethically troubling because it can leave entire communities vulnerable to preventable diseases.” Such was the case in a California theme park when a woman infected with measles spread the disease to 102 unvaccinated people nationwide from Dec. 2014 to Jan., as reported by the CDC. Of infectious diseases regularly immunized against, measles is exceptionally contagious infecting 90 percent of non-vaccinated people who come in contact with it. The virus can remain airborne for hours after a single cough by an infected individual. Only two states, West Virginia and Mississippi, employ a clause restricting exemptions for medical reasons. These states’ laws prohibit immunization exemptions based on philosophical or religious reasoning. In addition to the M. M. R. (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine required by U.S. universities, some larger university campus’ are including a Hepatitis B shot to protect students against liver disease. University of St. Thomas currently employs a vaccination requirement of bacterial meningitis for all students under the age of 22 as per state legislation. Students living on campus are required to have the M. M. R. shot. However, in compliance with state laws, the university allows for “conscientious objection” at the student’s request. U.S. presidential nominees will need to address public safety versus privacy rights during the 2016 campaign. Many remaining antivaccinators have a political issue with the legislation surrounding vaccine manufacturers. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 provides immunity to vaccine manufacturers. According to a case upheld in the United States Court of Appeals, the legislation was formed in response to vaccine shortages due to lawsuits. The companies, in exchange, now pay a small tax on each dose and claims are paid from the fund (Case No. 12-236, Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services v. Cloer).

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