While this is certainly not the first public health crisis the U.S. or Wisconsin has faced, it does come at a time when those who preach individual liberties and those who are against mandatory vaccinations, known as anti-vaxxers, have become more mainstream, making mandating life-saving vaccines even harder. Those who argue mandatory vaccinations and certain medical measures infringe on individual liberties and rights do not realize the hypocrisy in their arguments. Their decision not to vaccinate themselves or their loved ones infringes on the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for other Americans.
In reaction to the coronavirus — and public health crises at large — the CDC and other public health organizations often release statements in which they recommend vaccinations and other precautions to ensure the disease(s) will not spread. Oftentimes, states such as Wisconsin mandate some vaccines for school-aged children.
In turn, conservatives, anti-vaxxers and those against the government in general argue forcing vaccines on children is unconstitutional and wrong. Yet, they still visit hospitals and doctors while sick, which goes to show how well their argument holds up when a disease or illness affects them. Here in Wisconsin, a new rule which would mandate a meningitis vaccine for Wisconsin 7th graders was introduced to the Assembly Constitution and Ethics Committee. It was promptly voted down, 6-2 in a partisan line vote. Even odder, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bipartisan $8.3 billion bill to combat the coronavirus, which included a measure to research a coronavirus vaccine.
“This vaccine [meningitis] was introduced 15 years ago, the disease is declining and now all of a sudden DHS considers this a top priority to add this vaccine to the statewide Immunization Registry,” Rep. Chuck Wichgers, R-Muskego said.
Wichgers conveniently left out the fact that the disease is declining due to a vaccine — so mandating this vaccine, which a majority of Wisconsinites receive regardless, would ensure the prevalence of meningitis remains in decline.
“I am against any legislation that mandates a vaccine,” Wisconsin mother Tammy Goldstein said. “I’m not anti-vaccine, I am for vaccine safety.”
Vaccine safety — a common term used by anti-vaxxers and those against vaccines — is an argument that inherently makes little to no sense. Vaccines, in general, are tested, debated and recommended by the greatest medical minds, doctors and agencies whose sole purpose is to ensure the safety of Americans — so looking for vaccine safety, when examined, would mean advocating for vaccines, not against.
While it is certainly true and constitutional that the government shall not pass legislation that infringes upon individual liberties, those against vaccines do not realize their decision not to vaccinate infringes on the liberties, safeties and right to life other Americans also possess. For example, some children are too young or sickly to receive vaccines. If they come in contact with someone who has a disease, and is likely not vaccinated, they have the potential to receive the disease, and because they are still developing, oftentimes pass away.
Globally, vaccines save between 2-3 million lives annually while thousands of Americans die from vaccine-preventable diseases. The argument that mandatory vaccines infringe on individual liberties has been proven wrong repeatedly, even in the court system. Jacobson v. Massachusetts determined individual rights are not absolute and states can interfere with rights to protect the public health, as long as it’s reasonable.
Mandating a lifesaving vaccine is reasonable given the effectiveness, affordability and availability of vaccines in the U.S. From a moral, constitutional and common-sense viewpoint, the argument against mandatory vaccines can quickly be disproved and removed from American thought.
William Keenan ([email protected]) is a senior studying political science.