Welcome to 2019. On Friday, when Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) signed House Bill 1638 into law that would no longer allow parents to cite their personal and philosophical objections when trying to not vaccinate their kids against measles, mumps, and rubella, he said the following:
In Washington state we believe in our doctors. We believe in our nurses. We believe in our educators. We believe in science and we love our children. And that is why in Washington state, we are against measles.
Just the fact that he felt the need to state things like “we believe in science” and “we are against measles” is a sad, sad, sad statement about the current state of our society. That’s a bit like saying “we believe we are on Earth and not fantasy land” and “we are against things that can waste money, cause preventable suffering, and potentially kill people.”
Here is an AP news video of the signing and Inslee’s statements:
Washington state has been contending with a real measles problem. There have been over 70 reported cases of measles since January, with about 90% not having gotten vaccinated. This has cost the state close to a million dollars already, money that could have gone to other things. Inslee ended up declaring a state emergency, which diverted time, effort, and resources from other matters. With no real solutions being offered by those opposing vaccination such as “we’ll pay for the cost of the measles outbreak in Southwest Washington” or “we’ll take care of the kids who got infected,” ultimately the state legislature and the Governor decided to tighten vaccine laws and get rid of the opportunity for parents to withhold their kids from getting the measles vaccine solely due to “personal” and “philosophical” reasons. Note that this not prevent a child from using a medical reason to not get the vaccine.
The situation in Washington state is a microcosm of a larger problem. This year, there have already been more reported measles cases in the U.S. than any year since 2000, when measles was considered eliminated in the U.S. According to an April 29 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 704 reported cases from January 1 to April 26, 2019. Thus, without even being through half the year, 2019 has already reached a 25-year high. The last time the number of reported cases exceeded 700 was in 1994, when there were 963. Want to take bets on whether 2019 will end up exceeding that number? Vegas odds may be for the measles virus. The vast majority (88%) of the measles cases this year have occurred in so-called “close-knit communities.”
Even with the measles outbreaks going on throughout different parts of the U.S., some people still are complaining about “limiting personal freedoms” by limiting vaccine exemptions. For example, back in February, Sophie Nowack writing for the Texas Observer reported that Texas state Representative Bill Zedler (R) said: “They want to say people are dying of measles. Yeah, in third-world countries they’re dying of measles. Today, with antibiotics and that kind of stuff, they’re not dying in America.” Zedler said he’s adamantly in favor of “freedom of conscience” and against mandatory vaccination. “This is not the Soviet Union, you know.” According to his biography, Zedler had “a successful career in the healthcare industry, holding positions with Jelco Labs, Baxter Healthcare, Pyxis Corporation, and Bridge Medical. He continues to work in the healthcare sector providing consultative services.” First of all, antibiotics are not the reason why people have not been dying from the measles as frequently in the U.S. since mass measles vaccination programs started. Antibiotics do not work against the measles virus. There is no scientific evidence behind Zedler’s statement. Secondly, if you don’t want vaccination being required for kids to attend schools, the question then is how do you propose solving the measles problem? Again, are you willing to pay for the costs that measles cases incur? If someone were to get measles encephalitis or meningitis or die from the measles, are you willing to take responsibility?
Absolute and complete personal freedom is a myth. If you were to go to someone’s lawn, the market square, or a bus in the middle of the day and urinate, you would have a high probability of getting arrested. The same is true if you were to run back and forth in the mall while naked, screaming “isosceles triangles are the best, isosceles triangles are the best!” Think of how many things you have to purchase now or how many restrictions you have on your choices. Insurance companies don’t let you just see any doctor. Cable providers don’t let you just install your own satellite hookup. If you wanted to start your own airline company, good luck and see how that’s restricted.
There is a tendency to forget that people in a society all depend on each other. No success occurs without others’ help. This can be more readily understood when you are a small group marooned on Gilligan’s Island. The entire group recognized the need for the Professor’s scientific expertise, for example. But in a much larger country like the U.S., it can be more difficult to see how the daily decisions made by others are affecting your life.
Rules and regulations emerge because someone takes advantage of the relative lack of rules of regulations in an area and ends up harming people. Refusing to vaccinate your children puts not only your children at risk but also others, including those who have gotten vaccinated. If you were only affecting yourself by a decision, that is one thing. For example, if you want to run around you kitchen naked yelling “isosceles triangles are the best, isosceles triangles are the best,” go for it. But your vaccination decision affects many others. Public good is a major reason for vaccination programs.
The measles situation in 2019 is not good, but things could get worse, much worse. Waiting for an emergency is not the time to take preventative and corrective action. Back in January after the measles outbreak in the state of Washington became more widely known, a mom asked the “Natural Health Anti-Vaxx Community” Facebook group a question shown on the following Tweet:
— Jon Christian (@Jon_Christian) January 27, 2019
The middle of a sky diving is not the time to ask about ways to protect yourself if you didn’t wear a parachute. The middle of playing a tackle football game is not the time to wonder why putting ground beef on your head won’t protect your head like a helmet. Similarly, the middle of a measles outbreak is not the time to ask about alternatives to a routine vaccine that billions of kids have safely received since the 1960’s.
The fact is there are now enough people not getting their kids vaccinated to cause costs and risk for everyone else. There is also a lot of misinformation about vaccines being propagated. What then are the solutions to these problems?