OPINION: Anti-vaxxers are a public health crisis

A graphic of three people and a humanoid figurine labeled "MUMPS." Of the three people, one is holding a sign reading "VACCINATE YOUR KIDS." The second is a parent lecturing the person with the sign, saying "You think YOU know what's best for MY kid?" The third human is a child staring at the mumps figure and saying "Mom?"
Graphic by Jenny Park

Personal autonomy, especially when it comes to decisions about one’s health care, is a pretty fundamental right. However, when individual decisions start to endanger the lives of the community, that autonomy demands a certain degree of restriction.

Specifically, I’m talking about people who choose not to vaccinate themselves, and why they should.

A common rebuttal to the argument that everyone should be required to be vaccinated is that personal decisions to be unvaccinated shouldn’t affect the health of the vaccinated at all. In theory, this is correct. But in practice, it’s a little more complicated.

As effective as vaccines are, there are instances where viruses and pathogens can bypass their defenses. On an individual level, most vaccines are incredibly effective at preventing illness. The measles and mumps vaccines, for example, are 99% and around 85% effective, respectively, according to NPR.

These vaccines usually aren’t at risk of failing.

This changes when people don’t vaccinate their children or choose not to get vaccinated themselves. When infected unvaccinated individuals become symptomatic and contagious, even the vaccinated are at risk.

This occurred with the measles outbreak of December 2014 which, ironically enough, happened in Disneyland. Of the 52 reported cases, six individuals were vaccinated. They just had the misfortune of being around people who weren’t, while also being the unfortunate victims of vaccine failure.

Furthermore, failure to get vaccinated results in a ridiculous financial burden on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments. The Disneyland outbreak cost California $4 million, according to Wired. That isn’t counting the costs Canada and other U.S. states had to pay as a result of infected people traveling home.

To put this in clearer terms, the vaccinated taxpayer is being forced to pay for the rights of anti-vaxxers to become infected with a preventable disease, potentially spread that disease to their friends and family and cost the government millions of dollars.

For any anti-vaxxers reading this who don’t yet feel guilty enough to get vaccinated, consider this: the Food and Drug Administration puts vaccines through three phases of testing and through thousands of volunteers before they’re deemed safe enough to use.

Any negative reactions to vaccines, which are also extremely rare, are monitored through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, the Vaccine Safety Datalink, Post-Licensure Rapid Immunization Safety Monitoring and the Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment Project, according to the CDC.

Many reputable organizations, doctors, scientists and regulatory agencies put work into ensuring vaccines are safe. In a trial of the Human Papilloma Virus vaccine with 72,835 participants, the only adverse effect that more than 1% of people felt was a slightly elevated body temperature, according to the World Health Organization.

No one in the trial experienced an allergic reaction to the vaccine, but the WHO estimates (they have to estimate when it’s this rare) that the rate is 1.7 cases for every million doses. To put things in comparison, the odds of any person getting into a car crash and dying are one in 103, according to The New York Times.

So at the risk of becoming so paranoid that you preface Tinder dates by asking if your match is vaccinated, be careful out there. And get your damned vaccines.

Eamon Morris PZ ’22 is from Orange, California. If you’re on Tinder, know that he has his vaccines.

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