In January, a measles outbreak at Disneyland caught the media’s attention. Over 114 cases appeared not only in California, but in six other U.S. states and parts of Mexico. Even though measles was officially eliminated from the United States in 2000, there have been more and more cases of the disease in the last seven years, with over 600 in 2014 alone. That year, one outbreak in an Amish community in Ohio included 383 diagnoses of measles. This particular religious community reconsidered its previous relaxed stance on vaccines. The Amish weren’t opposed to vaccination, but rather didn’t realize that measles was still such a threat to public health.
In October 2013, a program entitled “Health Care from the Pulpit” was introduced by Enroll America, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to increase enrollment in services provided by the Affordable Care Act among the previously uninsured. They intend to bring churches of different faiths together to “be engaged in the education and outreach efforts around the Affordable Care Act open enrollment period.” Programs like “Health Care from the Pulpit” have existed for centuries and in a number of national contexts. The greatest example occurred during the spread of the smallpox vaccine in France in the early 19th century.
It’s pretty clear that vaccination views don’t break down on partisan lines. Elizabeth Stoker Breunig is no doubt right that good old American individualism motivates many people’s refusal to take major risks to other people as seriously as minor risks to themselves. But not all of them. (It’s hard to generalize about anti-vaxxers.) And individualism itself of course exists across much of the political spectrum. Nor is support for specifically mandatory vaccines found mostly just among us liberals, with our comparative comfort with statism. And some of the best things I’ve read on this have been by right-leaning commentators.
Medicine always involves trade-offs. With vaccines, we’re not just weighing them for ourselves.
Our normally fractious media and political world has reached an item of consensus: vaccines against deadly diseases are good, and kids should get them. As the Disneyland measles outbreak has brought new attention to the issue of vaccine refusal, prominent politicians have been asked to state their views for the record. Most have obliged with unambiguous statements that vaccines—including the MMR shot, which was linked by a totally discredited study to the incidence of autism—are safe and should be universal. One outlier was Rand Paul, the libertarian senator from Kentucky, who has a tendency to shoot from the hip in just such situations.