To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate

4 June 2015


Last week, an e-mail popped into our in box calling for voters in California and Vermont to campaign against state laws that will limit the allowable

exemptions from mandatory vaccinations.  Sent by an

organizations called Citizens for Health, the appeal cites

“bodily integrity and personal and domestic sovereignty”,

alluding to some vague potential loss of liberty and

founding constitutional principles.


Notably absent from this appeal is any mention of the responsibilities that necessarily accompany freedom.  What Citizens for Health considers “the essence of American liberty” – the right to refuse an immunization – inherently includes the ability to pose risk to others.  Refusing a vaccination places you at risk for contracting the particular disease.  Once infected, you become a vector for transmission.  You are now a danger to infants, transplant recipients, cancer patients, those living with HIV/AIDS, the elderly, and others with weakened or compromised immune systems.  While you may have the right to place yourself at risk, that right does not extend to posing danger to others.


There is a powerful meme on Facebook that asks “Remember that time you got polio?  Of course not, because your parents had you vaccinated.”  There is no arguing with that sentiment.  The statistics speak for themselves.  The absence of smallpox in our world is a result of what Citizens for Health term “forced medical treatments.”  Perhaps equally troubling is that this freedom from illness is enjoyed because herd immunity is gained via widespread immunization.  Those demanding the right to refuse vaccination rely on others to provide this protection.  There is something perversely shortsighted and selfish in this.  Guaranteeing others the basic liberty we enjoy is an essential aspect of our freedom.  Concentrated self-interest is not.

Guinea Ebola outbreak believed to be deadly Zaire strain

Ebola. The very word can strike fear, and for good reason. The fatality rate from some strains of Ebola can be as high as 90 percent. In some ways, this intense lethality is a benefit, as victims often die before they can transmit the disease beyond the immediate environment. Ebola is spread via contact with bodily fluids of an infected person or a wild animal. This can include diarrhea, vomiting, and bleeding, as well possibly oral exposure (saliva) and through conjunctiva (tears).

Historically limited to the equatorial region, the spread of Ebola to western Africa

represents a serious threat to nations with poor healthcare infrastructure. Many of the procedures viewed as routine in the developed world – universal precautions, personal protective equipment (PPE), routine sterilization, and single use of surgical implements or hypodermic needles – are expensive luxuries in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are no approved vaccines or treatments for Ebola, so curtailing the outbreak and reinforcing preventive measures is critical.

Although the transmission of Ebola through bodily fluids would likely limit exposure to business travelers or tourists, the virulence of the virus is such that anyone who has been in an outbreak area should be mindful of the signs and symptoms of the disease.

Ebola sickness begins with influenza-like symptoms: malaise, fever with chills, joint pain, muscle pain, and chest pain. As the disease progresses, nausea is accompanied by abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. Other symptoms include sore throat, cough, shortness of breath, and hiccups. Severe headaches, agitation, confusion, fatigue, depression, seizures, and coma can follow. Ebola can manifest between 8 and 25 days following exposure.

As with most communicable diseases, the key to prevention is awareness. Have you been in an area where the disease has been reported? Do you protect yourself from exposure to bodily fluids? If you may have been exposed, do you have any symptoms? In 1597, Francis Bacon wrote that “knowledge is power.” That adage applies to this frightening outbreak.

#ebola #westafrica #communicabledisease

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