Vaccination And Public Safety

First it was an outbreak in California, then one in Washington State, now one in New York State. Measles outbreaks are becoming more frequent and for me they stand as a symbol of a troubling trend in society, the masking of social responsibility. As a young girl I attended a French Lycee and we were schooled in the responsibilities of being citizens. We read excerpts from Rousseau and discussed the Social Contract. In the UK children are more prone to discuss Hobbes and Locke who similarly believed in social responsibility.  True, in the US those philosophers seem outdated and do not appeal to national pride. Still the idea of social responsibility is part of US culture.  Yet somewhere in the curricula of our schools, somewhere in the practice of our values perhaps we have lost it. When I first came to the United States It seemed to me that American teenagers were much more interested in conforming that we had been. As teenagers our emphasis was to put the stamp of individuality upon who we were. Being distinct individuals with our own views, beliefs, interpretations and preferences was very important. Perhaps it was the aftermath of experiencing WWII but while we were taught that individual rights are constrained when it comes to the public good, neither we, nor our elders for that matter, had discernible difficulties being both individuals and responsible citizens. I know many people who do not believe in vaccination and some of them are people I love, so I am well aware of their arguments. The fact remains however that when the exercise of individual rights interfere with public safety, I can’t help believe that public responsibility ought to come first. It may not be universally approved of, certainly to those who are against vaccines, but as far as I know public responsibility does not need to meet the test of universal approval.

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