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The United States of America spent about $ 3.5 trillion on healthcare, which is about 18% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), according to a report by Shaw et al. (2018). The increasing cost of health care for the federal government is partly attributed to the increasing incidences of diseases that can be immunized. The government, through the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and various other agencies, has been keen on managing conditions such as measles, diphtheria, mumps, poliomyelitis, and rubella among other conditions through immunization (McKee & Bohannon, 2016).
However, studies have shown that the number of people who are not immunizing their children because of religious or personal beliefs is on the rise. When conducting research, Weithorn and Reiss (2018) argue that it is always critical to identify what is at stake. In this case, what is at stake is the increasing cases of communicable diseases that can be managed through immunization. States should have strict vaccination laws to have herd immunity and lower the government’s expenses on healthcare. The following research questions were used to guide this study:
- Why should states have stricter vaccination laws?
- What measures should the government put in place to ensure that all children get vaccinated at the right time?
Immunization has become one of the most effective ways of managing conditions such as polio, measles, and mumps among many other such communicable diseases. The government has made these immunization services affordable and accessible to all the residents of the United States irrespective of their financial capacity or legal status in the country (Feemster, 2017). It is unfortunate that some people often consider it unnecessary to immunize their children despite obvious benefits. Some have taken advantage of the existing laws to avoid getting their child immunized, as Reich (2019) observes.
Current State of Immunization Laws
The federal government has allowed individual states to develop laws and regulations that govern immunization against various communicable diseases in the country (Bednarczyk, King, Lahijani, & Omer, 2019). It is necessary to look at exemptions permitted to childcare and school immunization requirements in each state in the country. Figure 1 below shows the classification of countries and immunization exemptions that they have. It is evident that some states such as Texas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Arizona, Michigan, Utah, and Wisconsin among others have medical, religious, and personal belief exemptions.
In these states, an individual cannot be compelled to have their children immunized, although the practice is encouraged; in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Nevada, and Washington, DC among others, medical and religious exemptions from immunization are granted. In California, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Oregon, exemptions are permitted based on medical grounds or personal belief. Only West Virginia and Mississippi have exemption from immunization only on medical grounds. Figure 1 below shows the classification of these states and exemptions that they allow from immunization.
Cases of Outbreak of Communicable Diseases in the United States
In this study, the researcher considered it prudent to conduct a simple comparative analysis. It was necessary to compare the prevalence of communicable diseases which can be immunized, such as measles, with exemption laws discussed above. It was established that Mississippi and West Virginia have the strictest laws on immunization, allowing it only on medical grounds. As shown in figure 2 below, the two states recorded zero cases of measles in 2015 (Weithorn & Reiss, 2018).
States like Minnesota. Ohio and Wisconsin with some forms of regulation registered less than 5 cases of measles in the same year. States such as Florida, New York, Nevada, and Arizona registered between 5 and 9 cases of measles in 2015. Washington and Illinois had 10-19 cases of measles reported. California had the highest incidence of measles outbreak reported, at more than 20 cases.
A comparative analysis shows that states with more relaxed laws, especially those that allow individuals to make personal decisions on whether they should have their children vaccinated registered the highest incidences of measles outbreak. On the other hand, states that had strict laws on vaccination had no outbreak at all within the year of the study (Feemster, 2017). The findings show a correlation between vaccination laws and outbreak of communicable diseases. It is evident that the only way of compelling people to immunize their children is to have laws that forbid parents and guardians from avoiding vaccination. Such strict laws will help increase the rate at which children get immunized at the right time, which in turn will lower incidences of such communicable diseases.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The study shows that a section of the American community avoids vaccinating their children because of religious and personal beliefs. The problem is that when these children become ill, they take them to public hospitals for medication. It means that they end up burdening the government with increased expenditure on healthcare because of their poor decisions. The increasing incidences of measles and other communicable diseases that can be immunized is an indication that many Americans no longer value or trust immunization as a way of managing these conditions. The following recommendation can help in promoting immunization as a way of managing these diseases:
The government should criminalize the act of a parent or a guardian failing to immunize a child at the right time. Some medical experts and human rights activists have argued that one should be allowed to make the decision of whether to immunize their children. However, such arguments are inadequate because they fail to take into consideration the fact that such conditions are communicable. If there is an outbreak, the condition will affect the community and the government at large. Given that the problem can escalate to become a major communal problem, the decision should not be left in the hands of individuals.
Bednarczyk, R. A., King, A. R., Lahijani, R., & Omer, S. B. (2019). Current landscape of nonmedical vaccination exemptions in the United States: Impact of policy changes. Journal Expert Review of Vaccines, 18(2), 175-190.
Feemster, K. A. (2017). Vaccines: What everyone needs to know. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Hotez, P. J., & Caplan, A. L. (2018). Vaccines did not cause Rachel’s autism: My journey as a vaccine scientist, pediatrician, and autism dad. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
McKee, C., & Bohannon, K. (2016). Exploring the reasons behind parental refusal of vaccines. The Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 21(2), 104-109.
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Reich, J. (2019). Why parents refuse to vaccinate their children, in their own words. Advisory Board, 5, 1-2.
Shaw, J., Mader, E. M., Bennett, B. E., Vernyi-Kellogg, O. K., Yang, T. Y., & Morley, C. P. (2018). Immunization mandates, vaccination coverage, and exemption rates in the United States. Open Forum Infectious Diseases, 5(6), 1-9.
Weithorn, L. A., & Reiss, D. R. (2018). Legal approaches to promoting parental compliance with childhood immunization recommendations. Journal of Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics, 14(7), 1610-1617.