Last year saw more U.S. measles cases than in any other year in nearly the last quarter century, and 2015 isn’t looking a whole lot better, after someone at Disneyland infected people who infected other people in what has become a seven-state outbreak. Measles vaccines have been around for 50 years, but a vaccine is usually only as good as the percentage of the population that gets it. So how do some people in a country that rejoiced in vaccines for killers like polio wind up wary of them? Emory University historian Elena Conis goes sleuthing in her book, “Vaccine Nation: America’s Changing Relationship with Immunization,” finding answers in science, politics and shifting cultural standards about how we vaccinate and what our doubts are. At a moment when, as Conis says, children’s participation in public life depends on their immunization status, she favors a nuanced view of our complicated relationship with “the jab.”

The importance of vaccines has variously been promoted as an individual health benefit and as a wider benefit — “herd immunity.” Is the latter appeal weaker in a “bowling alone” culture?

In public health, we’ve been emphasizing personal responsibility for a long time. We do not have universal healthcare; access to healthcare has been a big problem, and the way we’ve dealt with some of our biggest health problems is to task individual Americans to “take care of your own health.” We’ve done that with cancer prevention, heart disease prevention. [Herd immunity] is one of those rare areas where we’re issuing a message that’s in conflict with much of the other health messaging out there.

Where does the authority come from to require vaccines?

The authority rests wholly with the states. That state power came from two Supreme Court cases, in 1905 and 1922. The court ruled that states do on the whole have the power to enforce vaccines for the good of a community.

What do you make of the current measles cluster?

Vaccines – Google News


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