Anti-vax parents deserve to be punished

As of right now, more than 270 people across the U.S. have been affected by a massive measles outbreak. States like Washington are bearing the brunt, as the outbreak is expected to cost the state over $1 million. Other outbreaks in New Jersey, California, New York and Oregon are worrying state officials about both cost and health, as measles has proven to be a deadly disease for those who have the misfortune of contracting it.

Most shocking is the fact that measles was eradicated in the U.S. nearly 20 years ago. The recent outbreak can be explained by parents failing to vaccinate their kids. The anti-vax movement has persuaded parents to take advantage of religious and philosophical exemptions available in many states, allowing them to send their kids to public schools unvaccinated.

In terms of evidence, the case for vaccination couldn’t be more clear. Vaccines don’t give people autism, they don’t flood your body with unsafe toxins and they don’t give children extra diseases. Instead, they dramatically reduce the spread of contagious diseases. Studies demonstrate that the more of those that are vaccinated, the fewer people get the disease being vaccinated against. The reason measles went from 4 million cases in the ‘60s to eradication in 2000 was because of the measles vaccine, which has a 97 percent rate of efficacy in adults.

Apparently, some parents aren’t persuaded. As a result, they’re putting their children and the public at extreme risk. Health officials have tried education campaigns in schools and cities, but it has produced little to no effect. Anti-vaxxers hold objections that are not amenable by public policy, especially those rooted in religious belief or conspiracy against the government or pharmaceutical industry.

The solution cannot be rooted in education anymore. Instead, it’s time to hold parents responsible for their recklessness and impose punitive measures against them for refusing to vaccinate their children.

This has precedent in places like Australia and Italy, who have passed laws fining parents who let their kids into school without receiving essential vaccinations.

That’s a start, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids at all ought to be fined, even if they already planned on homeschooling their kids. Should they refuse to pay fines, or avoid vaccinating kids after paying them, the fines will increase.

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Some may see this as incredibly harsh, and possibly unconstitutional. Parents have a right to believe whatever they want, don’t they? They certainly have the right to raise their children as they see fit… right?

Not exactly. Think about the way we already treat those who pose harm to children and others. At the most basic level, parents are not allowed to abuse or neglect their children. You can neither beat nor neglect your child’s most fundamental needs, including food or water. In fact, parents deemed unfit to take care of kids are often subject to laws permitting the removal of custody.

So why doesn’t that happen when a parent refuses to vaccinate their children? It’s clear that the vaccines work, and that abstaining from them poses a deadly risk to kids and those around them. Even if parents are painfully oblivious to their misinformed views, that doesn’t make them immune from state intervention in the same way that negligence doesn’t permit parents to put their children in harm’s way.

There’s also a question of to what degree a parent can make decisions for their children if it causes them harm. You can feed them fast food and allow them to play tackle football, but can you make decisions that have a high likelihood of killing them? Given that children cannot even consent to the decision to be vaccinated, the answer is probably no.

The state also has total authority to punish people for posing a risk to the public. The simplest examples of paternalism protect the state from extreme financial risk and allow for the public to enjoy a safe environment. In Alaska, you remove your winter tires before the spring so they don’t destroy the roads we all drive on. You can’t burn chemicals or materials that release harmful fumes that poison the air we breathe.

Vaccination could not be a more clear example of the state’s justification for limiting freedom. Washington, Minnesota and other states with outbreaks will spend millions directing state resources to contain the outbreak. If others contract the disease, they will impose greater health care costs on the public. Health officials who spend time reining in diseases that should have been dead 20 years ago now spend less time developing solutions to prevent future health risks to the public.