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By Art Caplan
Measles are breaking out all over Britain. Getting fewer headlines is the fact that measles are back in the USA too. In fact they are in our region. A mini-epidemic is raging in Brooklyn. Measles for cripes sake! The disease that many of us over 60 had as kids that should never occur is back with a vengeance. The reason for the diseases reappearance is simple—failure to vaccinate. Maybe it is time to get tough on those whose choices put others at risk.
For decades, there has been a safe, effective vaccine that works exceedingly well against the measles–95% full protection for a kid who has been vaccinated– and nearly equally well at preventing transmission to others. The more people have been vaccinated the tougher it is for measles to gain a foothold.
NY City health officials have reported 30 cases so far–26 in Borough Park and four more in Williamsburg. The NY Daily News reports that the consequences of this outbreak have been dire:
“There have been two hospitalizations, a miscarriage and a case of pneumonia as a result of this outbreak,” a Health Department spokeswoman said. “All cases involved adults or children who were not vaccinated due to refusal or delays in vaccination.”
So far the outbreak has been among religious Jews some of whom shun getting the vaccine for their kids out of fear it causes autism Dr. Yu Shia Lin of Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park told The News.
Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn are not the only ones making poor, dangerous and sometimes fatal choices by avoiding vaccination. 20 people were sickened a few weeks ago in North Carolina when an unvaccinated person came back from India, attended two youth baseball games, and later, developed symptoms of measles having exposed many people. An infant in Battle Creek, Michigan, whose parents traveled out of the country without vaccinating their child against measles likely exposed others to measles at a pediatric office and subsequently at the emergency room where their measles-infected child was taken. And Britain is battling an enormous outbreak of measles directly attributable to non-vaccination
Pockets of measles spring up in places where parents choose for one reason or another not to vaccinate and then take an infected child on a bus, to an airport, to daycare, an amusement park, a church or other public places.
For many years public health officials have tried to debunk false fears about vaccine safety. Public officials have tried to make vaccination a condition of entering school. But choosing not to vaccinate is still permitted. Some parents home school to duck the vaccination requirement. And some parents just won’t believe that the vaccines are safe no matter how many studies prove otherwise.
I think there should be a right to decide not to vaccinate your child. But, we have been far too lenient in putting up with the consequences of that lousy choice. If your kid gets the measles, and remember public health officials are getting very very good at tracing outbreaks to their source, and makes my kid sick (can happen since vaccine is not 100% effective), my newborn baby die (newborns can’t benefit from vaccines) or my wife miscarry (fetuses are at especially high risk), then shouldn’t I be able to sue you for the harm you have done?
Some will say that the law in NY and other states allows refusal and that protects against liability. Maybe.
If you know the dangers of measles or for that matter whooping cough or mumps, and you still choose to put others at risk should you be exempt from the consequences of that choice? I can choose to drink but if I run you over it is my responsibility. I can choose not to shovel the snow from my walk but if you fall I pay. Why should failing to vaccinate your children or yourself be any different?
When the subject is vaccines a tiny minority continue to put the rest of us at risk. We are willing to let them choose to do so without penalty. That should change. If I know you or your kid made mine sick because you chose not to vaccinate then you should bear full responsibility for the harm you knew or ought to have known could happen.