Measles

It seems pretty simple: Vaccinations are good, no vaccinations are bad. Yet, there are still skeptics. Measles, a virus that was effectively eradicated in 2000, is making a comeback. In late 2018, there was an outbreak 555 total cases of measles across the country, with at least 285 of the cases being in New York City.

People on both sides of the argument are hot under the collar. Scientists and their proponents are frustrated as the measles virus was declared effectively eradicated almost two decades ago after their efforts brought the number of cases down by 80%. Meanwhile, those opposed to vaccines feel unfairly villainized by the media as well as science.

However, the issue is more nuanced than just for and against vaccines. Yes, all 50 states require vaccinations for children in the public school system. But, there are laws that allow for a religious or philosophical exemption from this law. This is the situation in New York City. A group called Parents Educating and Advocating for Children’s Health (PEACH) is pushing leaders within the Orthodox Jewish community to more strongly oppose vaccines. The Jewish population, especially within the more orthodox faction, has been hit hard by the outbreak of measles.

This is a tricky line for politicians to walk and some are more adept at the balancing act than others. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared the outbreak an emergency, something it absolutely is. Under his action, a measles vaccination is required, under a penalty of $1000, which raises complicated legal and ethical considerations. De Blasio’s action is a step further than expected as it requires all unvaccinated residents in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to receive one. As expected, there has been enormous pushback against this declaration by those who argue that their right to freedom of religion trumps de Blasio’s mandates.

Science simply does not back those who claim that vaccines are harmful. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) wrote in a statement that measles is a completely preventable virus with the vaccine. Unfortunately, opponents of vaccinations peddle falsehoods that amount to conspiracy theories. Backed with nothing other than their word against years of science, anti-vaxers continue to flock towards the more conservative and orthodox parts of religious groups.

What proponents of vaccines sometimes fail to understand, however, is there are some parents who have no choice but to keep their kids unvaccinated. Their children cannot be vaccinated for a variety of reasons. For example, if a child has a weakened immune system, the CDC advises against vaccines. Being unvaccinated makes children more vulnerable to the flu, measles, and any number of highly treatable viruses. These ethical considerations go out the window though when many anti-vaxers double-down on their claims vaccines are dangerous because they lead to something like autism or death.

While I can’t say I agree with Mayor de Blasio’s requirement to vaccinate against measles, vaccines are important for the health of most children. If one has the ability and resources to vaccinate it should be done. Failure to take advantage of that opportunity would be a dereliction of one’s duty to care for one’s neighbor and an affront to those that cannot afford it.