By Sam Groves and Branden Swartz | Editor in Chief and Assignments Editor
Vaccines have once again become the topic of national debate, with some arguing that the government has no place in requiring that children receive injections that allegedly cause autism. Some states are even repealing vaccination requirements for public schools.
As any institution with the authority to speak on medical issues will tell you, there is no scientific basis for the idea that vaccines cause autism. Autism is the result of genetic mutation and malignantly expressed sequences of DNA. There is no scientific basis for vaccines causing these genetic mutations and anomalies. Therefore, there is no debate to be had on this particular subject.
Are there risks involved in vaccination? Yes. Like plenty of other medical practices, there’s a possibility of side effects. But these risks are miniscule, especially compared to the risks of not getting vaccinated against diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox and Hepatitis B. The measles outbreak in California, which occurred primarily in communities with high vaccination rates, should be evidence enough of this.
Others argue that there are harmful chemicals in vaccines. While other chemicals may be present in vaccines, they are not harmful to the user. Vaccines go through strict testing procedures, and the CDC and FDA are extremely cautious. If vaccines had the potential to harm on a large scale, then they would not be released to the general public.
But that’s enough column inches wasted on conspiracy theories. In the whole debate over vaccinations, the only question actually worth anyone’s consideration is whether or not the government should get involved. All 50 states already require that public school students be vaccinated against certain diseases. But for how many diseases should vaccination be required? And how lenient should states be in enforcing these policies? In what cases should they grant exemptions?
Consider that the vaccination system works best when the vast majority of a population is immunized. It varies for each disease, but in the case of measles, the goal is around 90-95 percent. When this critical portion is reached, vaccines prevent widespread, archaic illnesses from returning and wreaking havoc across the general public. They can eradicate diseases and protect vulnerable people (specifically, those who have very real medical conditions that prevent them from getting vaccinated) from suffering and death.
Relying on people to make the individual choice to get vaccinated (and to get their kids vaccinated) will not be sufficient to reach 90-95 percent. All vaccines should not necessarily be mandatory for everyone. However, we should acknowledge that the government is in an exclusive position to encourage vaccination through its control of public facilities. The government should lean toward greater regulation, not less.
But that’s the opposite of what’s happening.
Texas does well enough when it comes to vaccine regulations. The state requires that children entering public school be vaccinated against an assortment of 10 different diseases—including measles.
But Texas also makes it very easy for parents to opt their children out. To opt out of the vaccine requirement for “reasons of conscience,” all parents need to do is sign a statement detailing the benefits and risks of vaccination. They don’t have to provide a specific reason.
It should be much harder to opt out of the vaccine requirement in Texas. Of course, there will always be a need for medical exemptions, but in the 2013-2014 school year there were 10 “reasons of conscience” exemptions for every one medical exemption. Children attending public schools should be required to be vaccinated, unless they have some sort of condition that prevents them from receiving vaccines.