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Home » Turner Law Offices Blog » Child Vaccinations & Measles: A Bumpy Topic

Child Vaccinations & Measles: A Bumpy Topic

measles in tennesseeChild immunization has become a big issue recently, after measles outbreaks linked to Disneyland were discovered in several states, predominately California and Arizona.
Measles is a potentially fatal disease that begins with fever and a unique rash. As an airborne virus that can live on infected surfaces for up to two hours, measles is more transmissible than Ebola. After the vaccine made a successful debut in 1968, the disease lost ground until 2000, when it was pronounced eradicated in the United States. However, in the past decade, measles has staged a comeback.

Two trends can be credited for this result. First, the world has become much more interconnected. Non-vaccinated people who pick up the virus overseas can spread it to non-vaccinated people when they return. Second, a 1998 report, which has since been discredited, alleged a link between the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine and autism. This caused many parents to stop vaccinating their children. One of the most outspoken and well-known anti-vaccine activists is the actress Jenny McCarthy. Some question McCarthy’s legitimacy as a public health authority, as she is also a pitchwoman for e-cigarettes.

Measles Vaccine in TennesseeWhen pondering a solution, my first thought is- can we force parents to vaccinate their children on public health grounds? This is one setting where individualism and public safety are at odds. When the personal right to make certain medical decisions and the general right to not be harmed conflict, the law often becomes involved (e.g., a nurse with Ebola threatened to sue New Jersey over her mandatory quarantine).

The government does require children to be vaccinated, as every state has immunization requirements (including measles vaccination) for school-aged children. However, many exceptions exist, for medical as well as religious and psychological reasons, and states are not consistent. For example, the state of Tennessee currently allows exceptions for both medical and religious but not psychological reasons.

The best solution is to encourage people to vaccinate their children (at the least, before visiting Disneyland)! The flu vaccine this year proved to be the wrong strain, but this should not undermine your faith in vaccines. Selecting the correct flu strain is a difficult task, and most doctors highly recommend vaccines, especially the MMR vaccine, for school-aged children.

Written By: Elta Mariani, a law student at Boston College.
Sources: The online websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The New York Times, the Huffington Post,, and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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