Ever since the invention of the first smallpox vaccine more than two centuries ago, there has been plenty of controversy over the morality, ethics, effectiveness, and safety of vaccination and immunization. It has recently been argued whether laws should be introduced that render some or all vaccines obligatory for all children (Singer, 2009). Parents, health care specialists, nurses, teachers and children all have an important stake in this issue. Parents argue that it is they who should have the ultimate decision-making right on whether or not to vaccinate their children. Nurses and health care officials oppose that view on the grounds that by making vaccination rates in children incomplete, we expose all children to contracting the vaccine-preventable diseases. If this is a risk some parents are willing to take, but others face unwillingly, there is obviously a propitious platform for debate.
Every parent is concerned with their child’s health. However, this concern can take several directions. While some parents are convinced that vaccines have been invented to prevent the human-to-human transmitted diseases, which otherwise can have serious health implications on children and adults, other parents are certain that it is the vaccines themselves that pose a risk to their children’s health. Both have reasons to believe what they do. It has been known that ever since the vaccines for diseases like diphtheria and measles were introduced in the twentieth century, the number of deaths related to these diseases decreased by more than 500 percent. On the other hand, the mid-twentieth century was also the time when such indicators as nutrition, sanitation and healthcare, and other important factors of spreading vaccine-preventable diseases have been greatly improved (McMahon-Pratt, 2005).
It is rather difficult to objectively determine what influenced the decrease in the number of deaths – the invention of antibiotics in the 1940’s, the improvement of sanitation and healthcare standards, or the introduction of certain vaccines. Those opposing mandatory vaccination choose to believe that it was the first two factors rather than the third one. There are facts to support both versions. For example, death rates from the pertussis (whooping cough) declined from 12,000 deaths per year in 1905 to less than 1,000 deaths per year in 1950 – 12 times less. But as the pertussis vaccine was not widespread until late 1940’s, we can logically assume it obviously was not the vaccine that influenced the mentioned decrease. At the same time, since the vaccine was introduced and popularized, the number of deaths decreased to less than 50 per year, which means the vaccine does help prevent pertussis-caused deaths all the same. Therefore, health care specialists do have their reasons to conclude that “low disease rates have been attained through high rates of immunization” (Ring, 2002).
Another important statement that both sides have each provided solid argumentation in favor of and against is whether a parent should be the one deciding to vaccinate children. After all, it is the freedom of choice of every parent to decide how their child should be treated medically and also to refuse to vaccinate their children if they believe it is too dangerous for them. There has recently been controversy about the deaths caused by low-quality vaccines or improper vaccination process, as well as the spread of many allergies and chronic predispositions to certain medication, as a result of individual body response to vaccination. These are the risks that, unfortunately, cannot always be foreseen and avoided, so calling vaccination a 100% safe prevention method would be definitely wrong (Rinner, 2010).
At the same time, those parents who do decide to take a risk and vaccinate their children, have to still be alerted that they face the same risks of their children getting infected simply because another child in the kindergarten group, or at school, may not have been vaccinated against the same disease and there is always a risk of their kid getting infected. “Unvaccinated children are at increased risk of acquiring and transmitting vaccine-preventable diseases” (Smith, Chu & Barker, 2004). Here is the argument of whether those children, whose parents decided not to vaccinate them, should be allowed in the same educational institutions that the vaccinated children attend. But this can also be objected to by saying that it is plain discrimination to refuse children their education, to which they have every right, simply because their parents are cautious about the vaccination. Where does the solution lie then?
In light of all the arguments presented above, I believe it is important to unify certain rules related to vaccination and not make it the prerogative of a particular public or private school to decide whether or not to accept an unvaccinated child. The issue of vaccination is of primary importance due to its direct impact on the quality and duration of the life of every citizen; exposing anybody to unjustified risk of being infected by vaccine-preventable diseases is simply inhumane. Vaccination has an incredibly long history – it is believed to have already existed in Ancient Greece, China and Babel (Stern & Markel, 2005). Since it has been around for so long and has been so widespread, I believe it is sound to consider it as an effective medical prevention method.
Vaccination today is used all around the world, and there are certain standards that must be observed so that all vaccines remain effective and pose minimum risk. If the person to be vaccinated is not, or has not recently been sick, has a healthy immune system and is vaccinated with a quality product, the risk of having any unwanted consequences is less than 1%. The effectiveness of protection of one’s health as a result of immunization is many times higher, which in my opinion makes the risk justified. Therefore, it would only be right to end all debate by passing a binding country-wide law to make certain vaccines (against those diseases that are widespread in minors, or that may cause serious consequences for one’s health) obligatory. After all, when it comes to health, there is no place for speculation.
1. Singer, Tucker. Why Obligatory Vaccination is Key (2009). King’s Dale Press.
2. McMahon-Pratt, Diane. TLR1/2 activation during heterologous prime-boost vaccination (DNA-MVA) enhances CD8+ T Cell responses providing protection against Leishmania (Viannia) (2005). Yale University School of Public Health.
3. Ring, Mary. Disease and Vaccines: Relation (2002). The Seattle Write-Up.
4. Rinner, Harold. Prevention for the Sake of Prevention (2010). The New York Witness.
5. Smith PJ, Chu SY, Barker LE. Children Who Have Received No Vaccines: Who are They and Where Do They Live? (2004). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Immunization Program.
6. Stern AM, Markel H. The History of Vaccines and Immunization: Familiar Patterns, New Challenges. (2005). University of Michigan.