Republicans’ Immune Deficiency

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by Michael Scherer,

from TIME Magazine,

Why a measles vaccine has presidential wannabes talking in code.

Ever since Boston first required smallpox vaccination for schoolkids in 1827, public backlash has lingered as an antibody. Where some see a public health benefit, others see a needle or lance pushing foreign bodies into the bloodstreams of children. And so the fear gets filtered through our politics, with candidates sending code words–I’m on your side, Mom and Dad–to the skeptics on both ends of the political spectrum. In the 2008 presidential campaign, candidates John McCain and Barack Obama both entertained the notion that vaccines might have caused a spike in autism, a theory that had been discredited years before.

Today, all 50 states require schoolchildren to get a broad spectrum of vaccines, and both the science and law are settled. Specific religious or philosophical objections, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled as far back as 1944, do not give parents the right to avoid mandates imposed by the state. Vaccines, after all, are not just another seat-belt or helmet law, meant to protect an individual from an untimely end. They also protect others, by creating a herd immunity that stops bugs from coursing through populations, where they might target the most vulnerable, many of whom are unable to get vaccines on their own.

Yet the fear of government-mandated injections remains. In 1900, leafleters ranted against the “menace to personal liberty,” and that language is once again ascendant, from the Tea Party conclaves of the Deep South to the tony farmer’s markets of Hollywood. Lawmakers routinely introduce bills that would once again allow milk to be sold without pasteurization: liberty for dairy (and salmonella too). A debate over whether states should require a new vaccine for the human papillomavirus, a cause of cervical cancer, broke out during the 2012 presidential race, when then candidate Michele Bachmann wrongly claimed that it could cause mental retardation.

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