Column: Prevention is always better than a cure

By Jeff Myczek

Last week’s headline article that students on this campus are contracting the mumps virus should serve as a wake-up call for many of us. If many of you are like me, diseases such as mumps, polio and measles were illnesses our grandparents told us about, and were part of a long-forgotten past of epidemics and deadly communicable diseases. A look at recent headlines and world events however, shows us that many of these diseases are still circulating and the need to get vaccinated is higher than ever.

In a report given before Congress in 1998, the Assistant Surgeon General announced that indeed the world eradication of polio was on track to be reached by the year 2000. Like the eradication of smallpox in 1977, the elimination of a major disease which struck fear into millions of people was ready to be written into history. What the authorities of the United States and other world governments could not anticipate, however, was the untold number of irresponsible people, Americans included, who had “declined” to vaccinate their children for these diseases.

According to a report issued by the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, last year the United States saw its first polio outbreak in 26 years. Four children in Minnesota, in a situation confounding medical experts, tested positive for the polio virus. Further investigation into the matter revealed how the children were able to be infected: none of them were vaccinated. These cases mirror the last two major polio outbreaks in the West; in 1979, 10 Americans were paralyzed by polio infection and in 1993, 71 people in the Netherlands were paralyzed by the disease – once again none of them vaccinated.

There is a common trend appearing among these outbreaks of once-thought controlled diseases. A group of individuals, usually adherents to some wacko religious cult or believers in some perverted herbal home-medicine scheme (these individuals tend to have no knowledge of medical science), refuse to get their children vaccinated for either religious objections or because they feel that vaccines are harmful. These individuals knowingly and willingly expose their children to the ability to contract deadly diseases, and more importantly, harm the “herd immunity” system which prevents diseases from establishing in a community.

While I will be the first person to argue in favor of anyone practicing or believing what they will in the privacy of their home, an individual should not be allowed to take part in activities which harm society as a whole. Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children are no better than parents who neglect to feed, clothe, or educate their children, and the state should step in and take the child away from these individuals who clearly are not mentally sound or suited to be parents. Misguided and fanatical beliefs are not above the safety of a child or the people around them. If you think vaccines harm your child, I am positive that a case of measles or polio would be far worse.

As for the religious wackos who have some kind of moral objections to vaccines, the government should deal with them, too. The government does not allow religious cults to commit mass suicide if it can stop them, and in my book willingly exposing yourself to the ability to get deadly diseases is not that much different than willingly killing yourself. Individuals should not be allowed to harm those around them through their own ignorance and negligence, and they should be vaccinated against their will if need be.

In our age of medical science and public safety, there is no excuse not to vaccinate your children. Vaccination has been proven to save millions of lives and halt the spread of epidemics. It is the duty of the state to ensure the health and safety of the populace through mandatory immunization programs – regardless of the objections of religious freaks and uneducated parents.

Jeff Myczek is a junior in LAS. His column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at [email protected]