Disney gets the measles: on not getting vaccinated

I’ve seen a few people suggesting that the solution is for people who are not vaccinated to never leave their homes, etc. Probably (hopefully!) a tongue-in-cheek suggestion, but here’s a reminder anyway: not all people who are not vaccinated are of the mind that vaccines cause autism or cancer or bad vibes or whatever.

For one, there are numerous good-science reasons for why certain people should not get specific vaccines. These are the US guidelines on who should not receive each vaccine. Coming from the federal government doesn’t guarantee good science (see: climate change) but aside from having a much better hit rate than Natural News, these are the guidelines doctors use to provide exemptions. They of course change over time due to a variety of factors, not just new scientific research but also changing studies of things like cost effectiveness.

For another, vaccination cost and supply are major issues. In developing countries, regardless of requirements, it’s simply becoming unaffordable. In the US, the costs are not that high, but that’s due to the way that vaccines are produced and controlled in this country: there’s a very high fixed cost that results in high bars to entry of licensed generic versions of vaccines, which means there are often very few companies producing each vaccine. This means there is a high risk to the supply, in the event of something going wrong with an individual pharmaceutical company’s batch, or the company itself having financial problems. This article goes into more detail about the economics of vaccines, and is well worth the read. This CDC list of US vaccines shows only three which have a generic version. The Affordable Care Act is a huge milestone for making sure that everyone can get vaccinated at no cost, but that’s a selection of vaccines depending on your type of health care. That’s based on, again, an assessment of cost effectiveness and risk factors.

It’s fantastic that so many people have got the basic idea that vaccines = good. But there’s more than one kind of vaccine, and they change over time, and ultimately the problem isn’t when any one person isn’t vaccinated against a specific disease; it’s when enough people aren’t vaccinated against that disease that we lose herd immunity to that disease. Herd immunity minimizes the spread between unvaccinated people (click that link in the last sentence for a good visual of what this means). So a blanket requirement of a vaccine for being out in public or even simply in a venue like Disneyland is not even needed to solve this problem.

One useful approach to a solution is figuring out why people aren’t getting vaccinated, and see what can be done to increase vaccination rates among those people, including improving resources and education. And we do already know that the anti-vaccination movement is a sizable one of those reasons: in Orange County, that movement is pretty strong, with about 3% of kindergarteners exempted from the MMR vaccine by way of a personal belief exemption. The personal belief exemption has been an interesting experiment: at just over a year old, the goal was that “this new form encourages education about vaccinations while protecting an individual’s constitutional rights” and that it “allows for constitutional freedom of religious expression.” Unfortunately, contagion occurs without respect to religious affiliation, so can we consider this a noble but failed experiment that needs to go away now? This is now showing proof of not encouraging education, and I’d like to think that general access to herd immunity is a higher priority over individual access to constitutional rights, including the right to freedom of religious expression.


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