Measles: Can parents be forced to vaccinate?
Measles “has made a comeback,” said Madeline Marshall in Vox.com, and its return has sparked a government crackdown on parents who don’t vaccinate their kids. The completely preventable viral disease was declared eradicated in 2000, but in the first few months of 2019, officials have reported 626 cases nationwide—more than in all of 2018. The highly contagious virus can cause fatal complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis, particularly among young children, adults with compromised immune systems, and the elderly. The outbreaks have been mostly confined to small, insular communities, including Russian-speaking immigrants in Washington state and Orthodox Jews in New York. Since creating “herd immunity” requires 95 percent of a population to vaccinate, the outbreaks have pitted the needs of society against the individual liberty of anti-vax parents.
That fight is particularly intense in New York City, said Jennings Brown in Gizmodo.com. The city has logged 359 cases—almost all in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. Health officials have ordered compulsory vaccinations in four hard-hit ZIP codes under threat of $1,000 fines. Five mothers retaliated by suing the city, arguing that the emergency order violated their religious liberty. But Brooklyn Judge Lawrence Knipel dismissed their case in a strongly worded opinion. “A fireman,” he noted, “need not obtain the informed consent of the owner before extinguishing a house fire. Vaccination is known to extinguish the fire of contagion.” This is undoubtedly a “sensitive issue,” said Elad Hakim in TheFederalist.com. But it appears Knipel’s decision is founded on solid legal precedent. The U.S. Supreme Court took up the question of mandatory vaccinations in 1902 amid a smallpox outbreak in Massachusetts. The court ruled in favor of the state, stating, “There are manifold restraints to which each person is necessarily subject for the common good.”
For Orthodox Jews, this isn’t truly a religious issue, said Julia Belluz in Vox.com. Indeed, even most Orthodox rabbis believe vaccinating is a moral duty. But “anti-vaccine propagandists” still peddling debunked claims about autism specifically targeted the Orthodox commuçnity, because its members “live outside the mainstream” and are suspicious of modernity and technology. City officials now hope that educating them about the safety of vaccinations—combined with some legal coercion—will change their minds. ■