Sitting and talking about the 10,000 people so-far killed by Ebola hemorrhagic fever in West Africa, it's easy to feel impotent. The scope and nature of the problems that fed the outbreak are the result of disparities so vast they border on abstraction. There are fewer doctors in the entirety of the hardest-hit countries than there are on K Street in Washington, D.C. But this morning, at an Atlantic Live event five blocks south of that commercial corridor, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, and I sat and talked—about how this happened, and about the complex psychology inherent to preventing the spread of infectious diseases.
In the case of measles, much more immediately threatening to Americans than Ebola, Fauci said that states could do more to require parents to vaccinate their kids. For one, they can reconsider the "personal belief" exemptions, in which parents can choose not to vaccinate their children based not on any medical condition, but on some ethereal notion that almost always amounts to misunderstanding of the science. He raised the idea of personal freedom, which is really at the core of objections to vaccine requirements. Of course, infants cannot be vaccinated in their first year of life, leaving them susceptible to anything, so choosing not to vaccinate is no more a matter of personal freedom than choosing to drive drunk or practice blindfolded archery in a crowded elevator.