Public health vs. personal liberty: The great vaccination debate in California

A proposed bill in California pushes citizens to decide between cumpolsory vaccinations or risk of potential measles outbreak. 

A proposed bill in California pushes citizens to decide between cumpolsory vaccinations or risk of potential measles outbreak. 

Abbi Webb, Assistant Editor

A newly proposed law is presenting Californians with the choice of public health or personal liberty.

If passed, the law would require all public school kids to be vaccinated, regardless of religious or personal beliefs, according to a Fox news report.

The proposal has created a division in Californians for and against the bill. Those in favor of passing it believe that the measles outbreak that has affected over 100 people in the U.S. and Mexico is only going to get worse if children remain unvaccinated. Their concerns are legitimate considering that a 90 percent immunization rate is required to ensure that a disease outbreak doesn’t occur and California’s kindergartners already reached the maximum at the beginning of this year.

Those against the vaccination law give religious reasons, concerns that the shot may cause autism and desires to build their children's immune systems.

This is a hard choice to make considering that either way involves a loss. If the law is passed, then Californians lose personal liberty to make their own choices about vaccination. If the bill is denied, then we will see a decline in public health and a potential nation-wide measles outbreak due to unvaccinated kids and adults.

Opponents of the bill view it as costing personal liberty and another way for the government to exert its power over its citizens.  Proponents say the state has a right and a duty to protect the health of its inhabitants and will do so in the most effective way.

David Tyner, Professor of Political Science at North Greenville University, believes that although we always need to be cautious of what the government tries to take away from us, i.e. liberty, we should also be equally aware of its duty to protect.

“It’s something we should ask any time the government wants to force everybody to do something, sort of wholesale, but I haven’t seen any evidence that it’s a pretext to increase government’s power rather than a legitimate response to a public health concern,” Tyner said.

While Californians may forfeit the partial exercise of their freedom, they could possibly stop a nationwide measles outbreak from spreading.

“My sympathies are with people who would object to it under religious grounds or who are concerned for their children,” said Tyner. “On the other hand, I think it’s reasonable for the state to be concerned for all its citizens and if faced with a potential epidemic that might put many children at risk, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that the state would take action.”

For those who wish to opt out of the vaccinations for religious or medical reasons, the bill's chief author is considering keeping exemptions an option. No final decision has been made.

“If I were writing the law or if I were governor,” said Tyner, “I would want as many exemptions as would be consistent with the public heath goal of preventing the epidemic or for religious or medical concerns.”