The Politics of Vaccines

The Story:

The number of measles cases in the US this year has passed 1,000: a rare milestone. This has stoked the already contentious politics of childhood vaccines. Every state in the United States requires that children receive certain immunizations before they may be enrolled in public schools. Most states allow a religion-based exemption, and several states allow exemption on the basis of conscientious objections that may not be religious in character. The whole subject is in flux.

Background:

The issue of childhood vaccinations reached the bully pulpit of the presidential campaign when Democratic primary candidate Marianne Williamson described mandatory vaccination as “Orwellian.” She compared a push to close the conscientious exemptions to the efforts to narrow the range of lawful abortions, saying “The US government doesn’t tell any citizen, in my book, what they have to do with their body or their child.”

As criticism of this statement rolled in, Williamson then sought to clarify: “I am sorry that I made comments which sounded as though I question the validity of life-saving vaccines. That is not my feeling and I realize that I misspoke.”

The Thing to Know:

The extent of public skepticism about vaccines, or at least about the mandatory character of vaccinations, and sentiment for expanding rather than shrinking the range of exemptions, is difficult to measure. It could ally itself with a much broader skepticism about the political pull of “Big Pharma,” and this issue may become increasingly explosive in years to come.

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