Thursday, June 26, 2014

Vaccination policy shows that public health can sometimes collide with individual (or parental) rights


Vox Media has produced a video, urging parents to vaccinate their kids, and reporting (based on a New York Times story  June 22 by Benjain Mueller)  that a federal judge in New York City had upheld a public school system policy of not allowing an unvaccinated kid attend public school during an outbreak, even if the parents had religious objections.
  
   
Once again, the vaccination debate reminds us that public health issues sometimes confound our ideas of individual rights.  The Centers for Disease Control has repeatedly written that there is no real evidence of any connection between commonly recommended vaccines and autism, as here.  Yet, people will claim harm in individual cases. 
  
The balance between public safety and individual rights gets more sensitive when it comes to controlling epidemics.  I sometimes wonder if it would be better to let people in the west be exposed to SARS and MERS and build gradual herd immunity, because it seems that most actual infections are very mild and without many symptoms (particularly MERS). "Social distancing" policies to control viruses like MERS could be very destructive to businesses predicated on people getting out and being together (movies, bars, discos). 
    
There’s renewed attention to Ebola virus, particularly Ebola Zaire, with an epidemic in West Africa that Susannah Locke of Vox describes as the deadliest in history (link).  But Ebola is relatively hard to catch (it requires direct contact with body fluids, although not sexual contact; just touching is enough), and people don’t transmit it until they’re symptomatic, so it should not spread by plane to the west.

During the early 1980s, the extreme right wing, especially in Texas, was fond of posing arguments that the gay male community, even with private behavior, as amplifying a then unknown virus to the point that it could change character and endanger everyone.  That almost lead to a very draconian anti-gay law in Texas in 1983 (before HIV was discovered).  I was living in Dallas them and remember the activism it took to stop it.  

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