Academic journal article Northwestern University Law Review

Compulsory Vaccination Laws Are Constitutional

Academic journal article Northwestern University Law Review

Compulsory Vaccination Laws Are Constitutional

Article excerpt


In December 2014, the first reported cases of measles arising in connection with Disneyland were reported. In the initial outbreak, fortytwo people visiting or working at Disneyland were exposed to measles.1 Measles is a highly communicable respiratory disease; the virus can linger on surfaces for up to two hours,2 which can be disastrous for an amusement park, school, or even a neighborhood playground. The virus mostly spread among those who had not been vaccinated, either because they were too young or were not vaccinated by choice.3 By the end of January, the virus spread beyond the borders of California to infect children and even adults in Utah, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Mexico in a total of sixtyseven confirmed cases.4 Most of the January and December cases in California and beyond were linked to initial exposure at Disneyland.5 The outbreak ended in April 2015, when no new infections were reported after two incubation periods.6 Overall, approximately 147 people in the United States were infected.7 This outbreak was the worst in California in twentyfour years, but luckily there were no reported deaths.8

According to the California Department of Public Health, measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccinations "are more than 97% effective in preventing measles."9 However, in the past few years, more and more parents have declined to vaccinate their children. In California, from 2007 to 2013 the rate of kindergarten parents refusing to vaccinate their children under a personal belief exemption doubled.10 One reason for this precipitous drop in vaccinations in the last few years is largely due to the medically unsupported theory that inoculation could lead to autism among children. Parents and even some scholars11 point to a 1998 article published in The Lancet written by Dr. Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues.12 The article inferred a cause and effect between autism and the MMR vaccine. The impact of his article was swiftand profound. According to one article, "tens of thousands of parents around the world" were turned against the MMR vaccine.13

Yet, the study had many flaws. Dr. Wakefield's study consisted only of twelve children who were selectively screened and chosen to participate. Moreover, the study was partially funded by attorneys hired by parents to sue vaccine manufacturers. Nevertheless, Dr. Wakefield's research was quoted by newspapers throughout the world, raising alarm about the efficacy and safety of vaccines.14 Even politicians "sow[ed] suspicion" about the safety of vaccination and urged parents to be cautious.15 Eventually, The Lancet retracted Wakefield's study, criticizing fundamental aspects of the paper as "incorrect."16 As well, subsequent research disproved Wakefield's findings, including a recent study involving over 95,000 children with older autistic siblings, found that the relative risk of autism among vaccinated children with older autistic siblings was lower compared to unvaccinated children.17

Parents opposed to vaccinations (often referred to as anti-vaxxers) claim the dramatic rise in autism cases in the United States prove that vaccines are harmful and vindicate Wakefield's early findings. In an effort to "protect" their children from vaccination, anti-vaxxers have used various legislative "opt-outs" or exemptions to spare their children from vaccination. As of June 2015, more than 80,000 California students claim personal belief exemptions annually.18

Despite the rising fears of vaccination, the benefits of measles vaccines are well documented. Within the first twenty years of licensed measles vaccination in the United States, an estimated fifty-two million cases and fifty-two hundred deaths were prevented.19 Additionally, due to the effectiveness of that vaccine, the United States declared measles to be eliminated from the country in 2000.20 That was a significant victory for modern medicine. So what accounted for the most recent outbreak? …

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