Should Parents be Forced to Vaccinate Their Children?
Currently, significant anxiety and great attention are paid to the issue of legal parental responsibility, to vaccinate their children or not. Continuous debates concerning the parental choice of children vaccination is associated with the anxiety about welfare and health of their children, since many cases are known today when vaccines did harm to children. However, parental rejection of childhood vaccination often affects the common wellbeing of the nation. Nevertheless, the USA is a democratic country where each person has freedom of choice. Therefore, the issue of enforcement of parents to vaccinate children should be studied more closely in order to reach a correct decision.
Legal and Societal Issues of Childhood Immunization
Being similar to other numerous medical interventions, vaccines can be both useful and harmful. In this regard, parents should be granted the right to decide whether to vaccinate or not to vaccinate a child. Modern society faces significant societal disagreements, which should be an integrated part of actual discussions. When children contact with other children or adults, discovering the source of their affection is often a problem (Margulis). It does not matter whether a child caught routine winter viral sickness, whooping cough, or chickenpox, the virus can be transmitted from a child with obvious disease symptoms and signs or from asymptomatic carrier in mutual contact. Thus, many scientists notice that vaccines are not perfectly efficient and even a fully vaccinated child may catch an illness or transmit it to other children (Gordon).
Today, scientists state many different reasons in favor of vaccination; however, they do not maintain restricting the parents’ right to reject vaccination. Currently, there are many medical and real-life situations that justify total or partial denial of childhood vaccination, but they do not represent enough valid reasons to refuse it at all. One can notice that if a vaccine is known safe and effective, there would definitely be fewer people with significant objections (Mercola). In the USA, 20 states legally permit parents to refuse some or all vaccines due to their philosophical or personal reasons. Unvaccinated children are allowed to visit classes, but in cases of an outbreak schools have the right to exclude them. In such a way, the government maintains the rights of parents to make these important healthcare decisions on their own (Gordon).
Parents who consider that risks from vaccination exceed benefits are allowed to abandon vaccination of their children on the medical and legal basis. The American States lows unconditionally admit permanent medical exemption or an exemption according to personal beliefs about immunization. These permissions are not strange at all. Parents who choose to immunize their children are guided by the advice of pediatricians and other available knowledge. In their turn, parents who decide to avoid immunization of their children can have valid reasons too (Margulis). The opponents state that the only way to eradicate infectious diseases is to make everyone blindly accept the potential unknown and known risks of immunization. Thus, they believe that deliberate choice of parents to avoid immunization of their children is selfish. Even so such position may be considered as an old utilitarian rationale, it can provoke quarrel for ethical reasons (Mercola).
The Health Threatening Factors of Vaccination
Both vaccination and avoidance of it can have adverse effects. The fact is that vaccines are effective in acquiring immunity to diseases; therefore, there occur very few cases of illness transmission from unvaccinated children to vaccinated ones. The only exemptions are applied to children who have a poor immunity or are too young to receive the full set of shots. In this regard, parents have to keep such children safe by means of preclusion against any dangerous contact. Moreover, children can be vaccinated against only a small minority of diseases; that is why, they constantly are subject to risk when they are in public places (Gordon). It was also noticed that besides a risk of harm, vaccines also can fail to prevent infection. Thus, for instance, the CDC confess that pertussis outbreaks in the USA were not caused by a high level of immunization refusal but a failure of the vaccines to provide a long-term immunity. In this regard, when healthcare workers cannot prognosticate who may be harmed by shots or guarantee that vaccinated children will not get or transmit an infection , the ethical grounds of informed consent turn to the parental, human, and civil rights which have to be protected by the US legislation (Mercola).
Truth and Concoction in Vaccination Decision-Making
Health professionals provide valid reasons for making all the recommended immunization shots. Nevertheless, parents’ ambivalence is based not only on the self-interest or instincts, but also on the educational information, which discredits the effectiveness of the vaccination. For example, the CDC financed the publication of the peer-reviewed article, which examined the effectiveness of the flu shots. The research results showed that in the majority of cases vaccination of children under 5 years was inefficient. Moreover, it has been known for a long time that flu shots are not so effective in older adults as it is supposed and a new study casts doubts on their effectiveness in children as well (Gordon).
From the one side, the Varicella Zoster virus, which causes chickenpox, is one more basic subject for debates against children vaccination. In children this illness is mostly benign and further leaves a strong immunity to chickenpox. On the other side, in adults chickenpox can cause a very serious and dangerous illness called “shingles.” The virus of chickenpox can live in the neurons for a long time and become active when their immune system weakens and cannot suppress it no longer. Due to the fact that children overcome this illness, many countries permitted parents to reject chickenpox vaccination (Margulis). On the basis of the mentioned facts, one should be aware that parents’ rights for self consistent decision making are the major reason for non-acceptance of the mandated one-size-fits-all immunization policy. The decision of taking part in medical testing or intervention, which can result in serious consequences, if the risk is low or high, have to be granted to all individuals, including parents of underage children who are morally and legally responsible for their wellbeing and safety (Mercola).
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Unfortunately, researchers do not usually pay attention to studies comparing clinical outcomes of immunized versus unimmunized children, even though this kind of researches are extremely important. Most vaccine researches are based on the invention and development of new vaccines for both adults and children. Some people claim that comparison of the health of vaccinated and unvaccinated children are unethical because of the fact that some children are unvaccinated. However, numerous American parents are already avoiding immunizing their children; therefore, this cannot be considered as a reasonable excuse. Recently conducted surveys showed that prevalence of some diseases in vaccinated children is more apparent than in unvaccinated (see fig. 1).
Fig. 1. Should Parents Be Allowed to Decide About Vaccines?; Mercola.com, 29 Apr. 2014; Web; 26 Oct. 2014..
The Universal Benefits and Shortcomings of the Children Vaccination
Undoubtedly, the world community has managed to reduce certain children illnesses to low numbers by means of widespread immunization. The polio vaccination was a crucial step towards the wellbeing of infected children and the whole nation decades ago. Since the benefits from these vaccines were obvious, doctors and parents easily supported the idea of universal vaccination. However, today the cases of polio illnesses are rare enough; that is why, parents should have the right to choose on their own whether to immunize their children or not (Imus). Recently, the CDC web site has provided a graphic that shows the dynamics of the decrease of morbidity from the most common infectious diseases (see fig. 1). The data on the illustrated graphic demonstrate that the cases of the infectious diseases, which were once very common, have dramatically reduced today. There is no polio, smallpox, almost no measles and varicella, as well as H. influenza, which is a virus causing deadly meningitis (Herper).
Fig. 2. How Vaccines Have Changed Our World In One Graphic; Forbes, 19 Feb. 2013; Web; 26 Oct. 2014.
Annually, in the USA healthcare reports state that vaccination of children saves 33,000 lives. However, the mentioned rates are based upon the medical care data of early 1900s. Hence, it is rather difficult to calculate the exact amount of saved lives and assess the harm from vaccines. In this regard, the parents’ decision to reject the vaccination of their children is unfairly treated with contempt (Imus). Currently, there are several scientifically proved evidences showing the unreasonableness of the herd effect. For instance, environmental toxins can decrease the effectiveness of vaccines. In their turn, perfluorinated compounds are found in a great variety of everyday products and things, such as cleaning stuff, non-stick cookware, personal care products, etc. Subsequently, if environmental contaminants can dramatically reduce the effectiveness of vaccine, so the risk of harm rises and minimizes benefit (Mercola).
As there are not enough facts, healthcare workers try to frighten people with the fatal consequences of vaccination avoidance. For instance, parents are told that unvaccinated children constitute a danger to others and that they are irresponsible. However, these parents chose the best variants to save their children from possible threats of vaccination and pose minor danger to people around. Besides, vaccines are controversial issue today and the exact truth about their effectiveness and safety are daily challenged by scientists and lay people (Gordon).
The Issue of the Information Deficiency
The majority of medical interventions and medications involve potential risks. Thus, before an operation or a prescription of any medications, a doctor informs a patient about benefits and possible risks. Childhood vaccines are not an exemption and are delivered with a long package insert, providing detailed information about production of the shots, their content, and risks. Surely, vaccination has never been thought to be a reason for genetic mutation, cancer, or impairment of fertility. However, anytime the vaccine is injected into a child, adverse effects are very possible. Therefore, parent’s objections and questions concerning the current vaccine schedule should be respected by healthcare workers and the government. Parents should have the right to participate in the medical discussions concerning usefulness of children immunization and receive all the information in order to make prudent decisions. In certain circumstances, depriving parents of these rights can be regarded as inadequate medical care (Imus).
Modern medical care managed to lower the level of children illnesses and morbidity by means of mass immunization. Nonetheless, parents should be more afraid of diseases that are not yet vaccinatable because they are also vitally dangerous and happen even more often; for example, children get cold from eight to ten times per year. Moreover, it is known that even immunized children can catch such diseases as mumps and pertussis. Today, however, scientists have no reliable laboratory or medical evidences proving who infected whom (Gordon).
Taking into account all the above mentioned information, it should be claimed that vaccination of children is a rather effective and universal method of fight against numerous infectious diseases. Although vaccines can often appear harmful, they are to be a crucial way for preventing contagious illnesses and, thus, high rates of morbidity. Due to the existence of positive and negative sides of vaccination, the government should give parents with rights of free decision making in terms of vaccination of their children. Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children should not be blamed because they are responsible for their wellbeing. At the same time, the healthcare workers and the government must provide parents with all available information about shots and their possible side effects. Therefore, parents should be legally permitted to choose on their own if their decisions are not a detriment to others. In addition, nowadays, there are no medical grounds to hold them liable.