There are lots of ways you could die in college. Now, you can add chicken pox to the list. Currently, some person—or people—in Lyon dorm has chicken pox. There’s no need to panic; chicken pox doesn’t usually kill young people. But the fact that a student got the chicken pox points out a larger campus safety concern: Students are permitted to attend Pomona College without vaccinations so long as a religious or philosophical reason is provided. There are literally hundreds of ways you could die. This is one way, however, that ought to be eliminated.
Our students should never become ill, let alone die, from any disease for which there is a vaccination. The five colleges ought to make vaccination for the range of common childhood diseases mandatory for incoming students. While the current policy is that these vaccinations are necessary, some students have received exemption for religious or other reasons.
The anti-vaccination phenomenon is spreading, and with it the chance to cause epidemics.
In the 20th century, the people who were not vaccinated were poor and couldn’t afford to do so. When epidemics broke out, they were typically in poor urban areas, where people lived in close quarters without access to appropriate health care.
The government made it a priority to vaccinate all children—rich or poor—and outbreaks of preventable disease steadily declined.
Today, a rising number of the people who are foregoing vaccination are well-educated and, typically, well-off. These people have no legitimate reason and no right to avoid vaccination, and endanger the rest of society with their irresponsibility. And some of these people attend our college.
These people sometimes claim that they do not trust the medical establishment. Some parents also claim that they are uncomfortable putting foreign substances into their young children’s bodies. Religious reasons are cited as well. These reasons are not acceptable excuses for failing to vaccinate.
Non-vaccinators do not have the expertise to evaluate the medical establishment, and it is furthermore an individual responsibility to find a doctor who provides trustworthy knowledge and advice. As for foreign substances, these parents need to loosen up. There are foreign substances on children’s fingers, not to mention in their mouths, all the time, to say nothing of the foreign substances on college students’ fingers. Additionally, the government regulates religious activity that it deems physically harmful.
It is overly superstitious to distrust medicine and to assume that natural remedies will cure all ills. It is ignorant to insist that there is such a correlation despite hundreds of studies disproving the connection between vaccinating and autism, and despite the retraction from the medical journal The Lancet, which originally published the study.
In a campus community where we are encouraged to support individual choices, ideas, beliefs, and opinions, it may sound uncharacteristically restrictive or even draconian to require that all students be vaccinated before they are permitted to enroll. However, personal choice cannot and should not take precedence over public health. Vaccinating should not be a personal choice. Failing to vaccinate is like building a wood-and-thatch town home in between brick homes that are built to code. It’s a huge fire hazard, and it endangers the whole neighborhood. No one would tolerate such a hazardous home, and no one should tolerate equally dangerous non-vaccinators.
Individual rights in the United States are based on the notion that these rights will not endanger other people. Failure to vaccinate oneself cannot be a right because it necessarily endangers other people. Choosing not to vaccinate doesn’t merely put yourself or your child at risk, but puts the rest of society at risk.
The greater the number of non-vaccinators in a given group, the greater the risk of an outbreak in the community. But so what? Only those who have chosen not to vaccinate will be at risk—they made their choice, right? Wrong. Students with immune deficiencies, people who have received transplants, young children, and others are at risk because they either cannot receive vaccinations or those vaccines have been rendered ineffective by other medical issues. A choice not to vaccinate directly impinges on these peoples’ right to live.
If a newborn baby dies because a non-vaccinated person gave them a preventable disease, has a murder occurred? Perhaps the irresponsible parents who willingly put the lives of other people’s children at risk ought to be charged for that crime.
In many places in the United States, there are laws that prevent the carrying of concealed weapons, the dumping of toxic waste, reckless driving, and smoking in public places. These are health and safety hazards for society, and thus government is able to make laws that inhibit personal rights in favor of the safety of society. While states do require vaccination, many allow philosophical and religious objections. This is not the case, however, for the other health and safety measures above. Objections should not be permitted for vaccination.
Until states do not permit vaccination objections, the 5Cs ought to introduce their own policy requiring all incoming students to be vaccinated without exception. It is the colleges’ responsibility to keep everyone on campus as safe and healthy as possible, and that includes making sure everyone is vaccinated.