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.

MERS Reaches US

Like its coronavirus cousin SARS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) offers continuing evidence of nature’s adaptability and humanity’s foibles and vulnerabilities. As viruses are exchanged between hosts – via airborne transmission, on surfaces (including skin), or bodily fluids (including saliva droplets in sneezes) – they can mutate.

28 % ​

Animal to human transmission is a danger; human to human transmission opens the door to an epidemic.

MERS emerged in the Middle East and has been transmitted primarily in that region. More extensive transmission, facilitated by a global transportation system and movement of people, has carried MERS elsewhere in Asia and to at least three other continents.

Movement of MERS across the globe has been predominantly with foreign health workers returning home from Saudi Arabia and neighboring nations. The problem is that is can take as long as two weeks for the symptoms of MERS to emerge. MERS attacks the respiratory system -- symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath -- and can lead to pneumonia and kidney failure. Approximately 30 percent of cases are fatal.


Scientists have yet to discover the method of MERS transmission. Identification of a third MERS patient in the United States is significant because it marks a documented case of human-to-human transmission. This third victim had several interactions with an infected healthcare worker in Indiana. Understanding the means of transmission is central to countering the spread of this disease. Research hints that MERS may be more prevalent than previously known, with some people having been infected but not developing acute symptoms and recovering without medical intervention. It is here that science, cultural norms, and national interests can intersect.

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies only those with active symptoms as MERS case. Blood tests have identified individuals with antibodies to the MERS virus, indicating that they had been infected. Saudi Arabia does not conduct these blood tests, leading to charges that the Saudis are not fully cooperating with global health officials.

Health officials have not recommended travel restrictions. The seriousness of MERS is such, however, to warrant increased awareness. Fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days of traveling from the Middle East [Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Yemen], are reasons to see your healthcare provider and mention your recent travel. Similarly, development of symptoms after interacting with someone who has travelled from this region is also reason for caution.

Health official are continuing to track cases, investigate the disease, and search for a vaccine. Meanwhile, the CDC’s advice for protecting yourself from respiratory illnesses by taking everyday precautions applies:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw the tissue in the trash.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils, with sick people.

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.

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