Our Viewpoint: Basic vaccines need to be mandatory

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, April 11th, 2018 at 6:10 PM

Often in conversations regarding vaccines, I think a key factor is forgotten on both sides: the parent’s choice, to vaccinate or not to vaccinate, is not a reflection on their intelligence. Any decision a parent makes is driven by love, care and a deep concern for what is best for their child’s well being. I deeply respect that. 

However, I also believe that vaccination against the most preventable of illnesses — mumps, measles, rubella and chicken pox — should be made mandatory. 

These diseases are among some of the most highly contagious, yet most preventable diseases in the world, and there is absolutely no reason for children to not be vaccinated against them. When even the presence of one non-vaccinated individual in a crowded area can start an outbreak, this issue ceases to be one of personal choice and instead one of public safety. Take, for example, the measles outbreak that occurred at Disneyland in 2014; one individual who was not vaccinated against measles and it became the epicenter of an outbreak that would go on to affect 34 people.

The issue at hand is two-fold: 1) the severity of these diseases is not being taken seriously; and 2) The public is not being effectively educated on what vaccines are and are not.

For many living generations of Americans, being infected with mumps, measles and chicken pox was just a rite of passage: something that everyone was going to get in a matter of time. The diseases were so common that parents would throw “chicken pox” parties where, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), children with chicken pox would play with other kids so that they would catch the pox. The normality of the disease means that many still think of them as “childhood illnesses,” or rather, nothing too serious. 

That’s a dangerous concept. 

For one, these illnesses tend to stick around long after signs and symptoms are gone. Shingles, for example, is a remnant of the chicken pox disease that often affects patients later in life. And two, for the individuals among us with weaker, or weakened immune systems, such as pregnant women, contact with these diseases can be life threatening and can affect the development of the fetus. 

The perception of vaccines must be changed. Rather than magically fighting off illnesses as they come, vaccines act as boosters to our natural immune response to unfamiliar things: antibodies. Basically, whenever our immune system identifies something foreign, an antigen, it sends out antibodies which combat the invader and protect you against the antigen. Normally, most healthy individuals produce millions upon millions of these antibodies every day to fight off the day-to-day stresses we put on our immune system. 

However, when a bacterial or viral illness, both of which can replicate into the thousands within the time frame of a few hours, is introduced to our immune system for the first time, it can take a while for enough antibodies to be produced to combat the invader effectively. That gap between invasion and production of antibodies is when you get sick, and when your body can’t catch up to the production of antigens by foreign invaders, you can die or become very ill. 

Vaccines aim to shorten the time it takes for your immune system to produce antibodies by introducing a weakened version of a disease to your body. Your body then recognizes the disease and antibody production kicks in much faster. 

The goal of vaccines is this: herd immunity. Herd immunity is a condition created when so many people are vaccinated against a disease that those with weak immune systems are not put at risk because they will most likely never come in contact with the disease in the first place. Unvaccinated individuals, understandably then, make it hard to achieve herd immunity. 

And the cost for these basic vaccines, unlike the skyrocketing cost of other vaccines, are relatively cheap. According to the CDC, one dose of the MMR vaccine costs just about $21.05. 

One of the main reasons that many choose to not vaccinate their children is because of the belief that autism and vaccines are linked — a theory that is completely unfounded. This idea comes from a widely circulated paper published by Dr. Andrew Wakefield back in 1998 where he claimed that vaccines, specifically the MMR vaccine, caused autism in the patients he studied. Further investigation and attempts at replicating his study, however, proved that there is no known link between autism and vaccination. 

No doctor can ever promise that a vaccine is 100 percent safe. However, pharmacists, scientists and doctors do their absolute best to identify any issues that might be present in a vaccine before it is used on patients. 

When public health is concerned, the government should have some power over making basic vaccinations, such as MMR, mandatory for all patients. If after making sure that their children receive the mandatory vaccinations, then it is the parents’ choice to decide on additional vaccines. 

Shayma Musa can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com.

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