An unvaccinated child with fever is taken to a pediatrician. It turns out he has measles—and he infects a number of other patients in the office. Three of them are infants too young to vaccinate. Two of them contract subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) a brutal, slow complication of measles that results in deterioration and death.
This incident happened in 2000 in Germany—years ago, and in another country. But the recent outbreak of measles at Disneyland has raised concerns that tragedies like this may become more common as the anti-vaccine movement continues to convince small but significant numbers of people not to vaccinate their children. Last year in the U.S. there were 644 cases of measles; in the previous decade, the average was 60 a year. This January alone there were 85 cases. Yet, despite the dangers, some parents continue to resist vaccination. And while many may just be ill-informed, or nervous about rumors they’ve heard from friends, some people have gotten antagonistic. A recent CNN report quoted one anti-vax parent dismissing the idea that he had a responsibility to the public good. "I'm not going to sacrifice the well-being of my child. My child is pure," he said. "It's not my responsibility to be protecting their child." Given this attitude, what options are there to help those whose children may be exposed to a dangerous and even deadly illness?
Reiss points to the children in Germany who contracted SSPE, and the medical costs, lost work hours, and expenses the families incurred. "Nothing can fully compensate these families for the suffering they went through," she acknowledges. "However, monetary compensation can help the families rebuild their lives and prevent additional suffering from the financial, on top of the human, losses they suffered." People who fail to vaccinate their children create real, sometimes catastrophic costs when they infect others. As a matter of justice, Reiss argues, those costs should be born by those who negligently decided, against all the scientific evidence, to expose others to risk.