Vaccines, Red Lights and The Common Good

In the latest iteration of the Florida Surgeon General’s response to a public health crisis
an outbreak of the measles has occurred. Measles is a highly contagious disease. The
virus that is the cause of the disease is present before symptoms are apparent and
days after symptoms disappear. It is spread through airborne particles that are the
byproduct a sneeze or cough. The virus can survive for hours after being disseminated.
This disease was wiped out in the 1960’s through the effective administration of a
vaccine protocol that required vaccination for children. In an environment with 95%
vaccination even those that are unvaccinated are protected by herd immunity.

Due to the recent prevalence of anti-vaccine sentiment the vaccination rate in Florida
has dipped to 90% and an outbreak has occurred. The Surgeon General in defiance of
accepted medical practice allowed parents to decide for themselves whether to send
their unvaccinated students to school during an outbreak. This is in defiance of a well-
established health care protocol that would protect their children and others from this
disease.

In our history there has always been a healthy tension between the common good and
the rights of individuals. As Oliver Wendell Holmes put it “Your right to swing your fist
ends at the tip of my nose.” No one has the right to put another person’s life in peril.
Your personal rights, your personal freedom does not give you permission to run a red
light. We understand that our compliance with this simple restraint on our freedoms
benefits us all. We endure it gladly. The challenge is how far can these simple
restraints go to serve the common good, to protect our lives and the lives of others.
The fact that this is under question in 2024 in the name of a “Don’t Tread On Me”
distortion of what personal freedom means is evidence of the decay of our sense of the
Common Good. What benefits us all benefits each of us. Vaccines save lives.

The population data on this is overwhelming. From 1956 to 1960 just prior to the measles
vaccine there was an average of 450 measle deaths per year in the United States.
Worldwide the vaccination rate currently hovers at 60% and there were 166,000 deaths
attributed to measles in the last year. As of 2023 the last measle death in the United
States was in 2015.

We stop at red lights for a good reason. There is little difference between that and the
observance of best practices to avoid the tragedy that this singular disease can cause.

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