The outbreak of measles in the United States has become a cause for concern not only for public health but for politicians as well.
Starting from a few cases at Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California, measles has spread across the country into 14 different states, forcing public officials to speak out on the issue.
President Barack Obama has called for families across the country to vaccinate their kids. Some Republicans have been criticized for speaking to the individual choice to not be vaccinated, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Others have found themselves with Obama, recommending vaccinations.
“If it’s a personal choice, that would mean you could also dump your sewage and trash in the middle of the street,” Rep. John Fleming (R-Louisiana) told The Hill. “Of course, you’re not allowed to do that, are you? It’s against the law. Why? Because of public health.”
Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan agrees. “I think vaccination, particularly against measles and others, is very important to public health, and we’re seeing what happens when it doesn’t occur,” he said.
The debate has centered around the discredited argument that vaccination could cause harm to kids, including mental retardation and autism. Conservatives have been stuck between preserving personal liberty and public safety.
One reason measles has re-emerged after being practically eliminated from the United States is because of just that, personal liberty. With more people choosing not to vaccinate, the virus has been given an opportunity to re-emerge.
The Washington Post found that the World Health Organization ranks 113 countries ahead of the U.S. on immunization rates of 1-year-olds. In 2013, the U.S. stood at at 91 percent immunization, less than China, Brazil, Iran, Russia and many African countries.
Despite this vulnerability, some lawmakers continue to put personal liberty above public safety.
“For me, I want that to be my choice as a parent, and you know what? I know my kids best,” Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wisconsin) said in an interview with MSNBC. “I know what morals and values are right for my children, and I think we should not have an oppressive state telling us what to do.”
We all want to choose what we think is right, but when it comes to the safety of all Americans, vaccinations can prevent the disease from spreading.
“You have a right not to [vaccinate], but when you cause the problem, you’re responsible for that problem,” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) said, “and everybody’s missing that part of it.”