Vaccinations: public health vs public choice

Photo by Patagonia Health

Megan Wade

The Washington Post’s Aug. 21, 2017 article titled, “Despite the measles outbreak, anti-vaccine activists in Minnesota refuse to back down” shows how an entity of public administration can clash with public choice.

The article by Lena H. Sun describes how the March 2017 measles outbreak in Minnesota energized anti-vaccine forces. The outbreak was primarily in a community of Somalian refugees, known for being against vaccinations. Of the 79 local Minnesota cases, most involved unvaccinated preschool children. More than 8,200 people were exposed in day cares, schools and hospitals. While the disease was eradicated in the United States in 2000, because of the growing number of parents refusing to vaccinate their children due to their fear of vaccine complications, there have been outbreaks in the recent years.

The reason the surge of anti-vaxxers is such a problem recently is because it cancels out the positive effects of herd immunity. Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from an infectious disease. In order for herd immunity to be useful in the case of measles, 90-95 percent of the area’s population must have the vaccination. According to Sun’s article, the Somali American children in Minnesota had a vaccination rate of 92 percent in 2004, but dropped to 42 percent by 2014. The dramatic percentage drop can be attributed to the rumor that vaccinations can cause autism in young children. The article points out that even though the rumor has been disproven by extensive research, anti- vaxxers have been misinforming the Somali American community for nearly a decade. The officials involved in preventing the spread of measles any further were health department officials, doctors, and vaccination advocates.

As a public health student, I think it’s extremely important that everyone vaccinates his or her children. Not only is it harmful for kids to not have vaccinations, but it also puts others at risk. After reading this article, I think the main reason there was such a large outbreak of measles in Minnesota was due to misinformation. It is very important that the correct information is given to parents so that they can fully understand why vaccines save lives.

The measles disease was eradicated in the United States in 2000, so it should not be a problem in 2017. I think this article is a perfect example of a component of public administration versus. public choice and information. Even though public health officials know what the negative effects of not vaccinating children can be, they still can’t force parents to vaccinate their kids, even if it puts others at risk. In this case, the role of public health officials is to get the correct information out to families, encourage vaccinations and answer any questions they may have. It is important that the public has a choice in health matters, even if it focuses less on efficiency and more on freedom of choice.