Point-Counterpoint: Restricting personal belief exemptions for childhood vaccination

I edit the Journal of Health, Politics, Policy, and Law’s new section: Point-Counterpoint. In this issue, public health experts discuss what to do about intentional non-vaccination.

It’s a pressing issue. CDC reports that there were more cases of measles in the U.S. during the first half of 2011 than in any year since 1996.  Eighty-nine percent of those who got the disease were unvaccinated. Some were simply too young to have been vaccinated. Most, however, were left unvaccinated due to the decision of a parent.

The rising prevalence of deliberate non-vaccination poses a risk to the individual. It also compromises herd immunity, particularly within communities in which religious or cultural values lead concentrated numbers of people to make this decision. Experts agree that personal belief exemptions are one aspect of the problem. Experts don’t agree about what to do next.

John Lantos, Mary Anne Jackson, and Christopher J. Harrison would strongly restrict such exemptions when these facilitate non-vaccination for contagious diseases with high childhood mortality rates. Douglas Opel and Douglas Diekema aren’t quite so sure this is a wise idea.

Within the same issue, Anna Kirkland has a terrific piece about vaccine critics and the autism hypothesis. If you’re a real glutton for punishment, you can read my own views on vaccines, autism, and public trust in medical and public health authorities.

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