When is it Okay to Mandate Vaccinations?

UPDATED: There are exceptions for when vaccinations are required in North Dakota public schools. They include religious, philosophical, or moral beliefs which cause a parent to oppose vaccinations. Thanks to Rick Olson for pointing out my ommission.

Also, I fixed a broken link.

Something Rob wrote in this post struck a nerve with me. In writing about madatory vaccinations, Rob said this:

Government vaccination mandates are defensible in some instances. If we want to eradicate certain diseases from our society, or at least have a level of prevention that’s as good as the next best thing, then a critical mass of the public must be vaccinated. Thus, requiring vaccinations in public schools is sound policy.

I happened to a have a conversation about this very topic recently, and I came to a very different conclusion.

Mainly, I don’t know that the need to “eradicate a disease” is a good enough reason to enforce vaccinations, including before attending school.

Let me get some things out of the way in anticipation of your responses: I think every child should be vaccinated. My child is up-to-date on all of them. I think not getting vaccinations, whether it’s because of some unfounded fear of autism, religious qualms, or just plain laziness, is wrongheaded. Vaccines are Good Things. Vaccines save lives.

Is that a good enough reason to mandate them? I’m not so sure. I guess I worry about the slippery slope argument. If public health concerns are a good enough reason to force vaccinations, aren’t they good enough to force things like diet restrictions? Can it be mandated that you refrain from activitity that increases your exposure to certain diseases? Can “risky” sex be outlawed? Alcohol? Smoking in private businesses?

The concensus seems to be that Texas governor Rick Perry made a mistake in mandating an HPV vaccine for girls in his state (the governor himself said he “made a mistake” in a recent debate). However, in North Dakota it is already mandated that a child entering a public school must be vaccinated against the following:

diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, rubella (German measles), mumps, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenza type b (Hib), varicella (chickenpox), poliomyelitis, pneumococcal disease, meningococcal disease, rotovirus, and hepatitis A.

If we believe that these are “okay”, why not an HPV vaccine? Why is one out of bounds but not others?

If there is a line, where should it be drawn? Does the good outcome of potentially eradicating a disease outweigh the right of an individual to make a potentially bad choice? If so, how far in the direction of government mandates does that line fall?

Jay Winkis

Jay Winkis lives in Horace, ND and works in Fargo. He likes cooking, politics, guitars, books, poker and whiskey, though certainly not in that order. He is either a liberal Conservative or a conservative Liberal, whichever makes you angrier. He blogs at Pocket Jacks.

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