Unvaccinated children put everyone else at risk, violating a basic ethical principle against imposing harms on others. If an individual’s right ends at the point that its exercise jeopardizes the safety of others, then why do states allow parents to opt out? The reason boils down to overbroad exemptions granted by many states. The Constitution doesn’t require states to grant any exemptions, but lobbying by a minority of parents has resulted in a tragedy of the commons.
Vaccine-preventable diseases are on the rise — diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, mumps and rubella. Parents are delaying or selectively administering vital immunizations for their children, often opting out entirely. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared measles eliminated in 2000. But in 2014, the United States recorded a record number of cases — 644 cases from 27 states, more than three-fold higher than in any previous year. In January, a measles outbreak started at Disneyland, diffusing to 14 states.
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