It's 2015, and vaccination, a well-established medical practice for decades, is somehow the hot-button issue of the day.
Though no prominent politician has come out as a hard-core anti-vaxxer, several Republicans, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, have had no problems pandering to that crowd by playing the "personal freedom" card.
Well, Miami-area Rep. Frederica Wilson, a former public school principal, will have none of that. She's undertaking what could perhaps be her most high-profile political fight since being elected to the U.S. House by calling for a federal bill that would make some vaccines mandatory for all public schoolchildren.
Though the growing anti-vaccination movement has drawn eye rolls from mainstream medicine and media for a while, the issue came to a head after a measles outbreak at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, spread to 14 states (but not Florida yet). The majority of those affected had not received full vaccinations.
To some, that seems like a simple personal freedom issue: Those who don't get vaccinated know they could contract diseases, but that's their choice.
But as Wilson and several others point out, many people -- including infants, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems -- should not receive vaccines for health reasons. In a society where the vast majority of eligible people have been vaccinated against disease, it won't spread and is unlikely to affect those at risk. Therein lies the public health threat that extends beyond personal freedom.
"As a former elementary school principal, I know the importance of childhood vaccinations. Research has shown that vaccinations are effective; they keep children healthy, save lives, and protect future generations of Americans," Wilson said in a statement.
"The health and safety of children should be our top priority. Children who are not vaccinated put themselves and others in danger of acquiring and spreading preventable diseases, particularly to those individuals who cannot receive vaccinations, such as infants, pregnant women, and individuals with compromised immune systems, including the elderly and those with diseases like HIV/AIDS and leukemia."
Wilson now plans to file a bill to make vaccinations mandatory for all public school students.
There is no federal law mandating vaccinations, but every single state has laws mandating vaccines for certain populations. Florida, for example, requires students, even those in private schools, to get a host of vaccinations before they are allowed to attend school. Parents can opt their children out of these requirements only for obvious health or religious reasons.
However, as a Democrat, Wilson is unlikely to see her bill passed in the Republican-controlled House, especially on a hot-button issue.
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