To Vaccinate Or Not – The Story Of Gotcha
This past week, Governor Chris Christie and Senator Rand Paul fell prey to the sensational aspects of a free press. Both GOP Presidential hopefuls were asked whether Americans should be required to be vaccinated or left to decide for themselves. Mindful of the upcoming primaries, both who know better about public health, waffled giving the nod to individual rights. The press had a field day.
Christie and Paul invite these questions unintentionally when they agree to interviews which they hope will raise the public awareness of them. Never the less, there should be some judgement applied to the message the major news agencies are sending when they jump on a sound bite.
Rand Paul is a medically trained eye doctor and must know the relationship of vaccinations and public health. Governor Christie must also understand the public health inferences since he was quick to impose mandatory quarantines for returning Ebola healthcare workers. Being a politician, however, is practicing the art of speaking to the audience and telling them what they want to hear. In interviews, the audience is not always specified.
Individual rights and religious rights are frequently used to justify the reason someone refuses vaccination. Sometimes these positions have been coupled with so called scientific data. In a recent controversy involving vaccine preservatives, the “scientific facts” were subsequently debunked. Still many insist it is their right to refuse vaccination. Hmmm.
From an individual rights perspective, Paul and Christie have a valid point that public policy should include the views of those who reject vaccination. From a public health perspective, however, it becomes much more complicated. Vaccination has been overwhelmingly shown to protect the public so mandating vaccination should be accepted… for most Americans. There will be, unfortunately, individual cases where some people cannot tolerate vaccines. There must be a way out for these people, I would think.
End of story? No.
If someone refuses or is unable to take public policy approved vaccinations, they still bear a responsibility to not hurt others. The whole point of mass vaccination is the protection of everyone, not just the person vaccinated.
The “ambush interview” type of questions that Rand and Christie fielded are a disservice to public health. Just as with the Ebola scare, public officials suddenly get confused on the role of public health and individual rights. Common sense goes out the window and in its place flows the “prepared talking point”.
If the purpose of these interviewers’ questions was to embarrass Paul and Chrisite, then they scored their points. If the purpose was to get an informed opinion about a serious public health issue, they missed the mark.