Polio doesn’t need a passport — and maybe neither do you.

Measles are in the news.  In some places in the country we are seeing small clusters of cases. In other places, like Ohio, large outbreaks of the disease have been reported. What do almost all of these cases have in common?  An unvaccinated traveler.

In Ohio, there are over 80 cases of measles tied to a group of unvaccinated travelers who went to the Philippines – a country in the midst of a measles outbreak estimated to include over 20,000 individuals.  In California, 54 of the 58 (93%) reported measles cases reported between January and April 2014, came from travelers to foreign countries.  Most of the cases were, not surprisingly, among unvaccinated individuals.  Can we blame Jenny McCarthy and her anti-vaccine followers?  Yes, in part.

The anti-vaccine movement, girded by the fraudulent work of Andrew Wakefield, has spent the last several years working hard to convince parents that measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is the cause of autism.  Internet-based charlatans have touted the wonders of natural healing (which, of course, can be bought from said charlatan) and the dangers of vaccination.  The media has fueled the anti-vaccine movement, giving platforms for anecdotal stories about vaccine-injuries and purportedly associated rises in autism rates.  Parents have been bombarded with anti-vaccine information. It is no wonder that vaccination rates have been declining.

But the anti-vaccine movement isn’t solely to blame.  We can also blame ourselves, and our elected officials. We take great pains to ensure that carry-on liquid stay below the 3oz. level, we put infants through metal detectors to search out weapons, we have no-fly lists and strict identification requirements.  But when it comes to disease, we’ve dropped the ball.  As a country, we’ve made great strides at increasing travel safety, except when it comes to preventing unvaccinated travelers from bringing more than souvenirs home. We ensure that immigrants and refugees to the United States are vaccinated, why don’t we require the same for our own citizens who may choose to travel to places where disease is endemic and may unwittingly bring disease back home again?

We need to reconsider our public health strategy.  Polio, measles and mumps may not need a passport to travel, but individuals do.  The easiest way to deter unvaccinated individuals from going to countries with disease epidemics is to limit access to passports. In addition to proving your identify and U.S. citizenship, you should have to provide documentation of your immunization status, or proof of a legitimate exemption.   Individuals who cannot do that (or won’t) shouldn’t get to have a passport.

This plan won’t be popular.  It’s the very nature of many public health initiatives that some individual liberty has to give way for the common good.  Stopping the importation of disease through unvaccinated travelers is an essential component of protecting our communal health.

3 Comments

Filed under Vaccine exemptions

3 Responses to Polio doesn’t need a passport — and maybe neither do you.

  1. Rachelle

    Vaccines are important, no one is denying that. But may be, just may be a small percentage of human population has adverse reaction to them. The need is to study that small population to ensure its safety. Secondly, impact of vaccines in combination of other facts needs to be studied rigorously. For example in a recent book the author has investigated the impact of vaccines in combination with processed foods and has come to the conclusion that they both contributed towards increasing Autistic traits. Book is Reducing Autism Poisoning Impacts. Author: Adeerus Ghayan.

    • Amanda Zibners Naprawa

      Hi Rachelle
      Thanks for your comment. I agree that there are a small number of people who have allergies or other underlying reasons that make vaccinations inappropriate for them. This is the purpose of the contraindications that physicians keep in mind when vaccinating anyone. For instance, vaccines are typically not recommended when a person has previously had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine component or after a prior dose of a vaccine. (Check out http://www.cdc.gov for more info). I appreciate that you provided a reference to support your argument that vaccines may be contributing to autism. I checked out your source and read the whole “case study.” This parent-published work does not contain any legitimate scientific data and is based entirely on the observations of parents observing their autistic child. The baby began experiencing sleep issues and other problems prior to the age at which he would have been vaccinated and the parents themselves don’t actually attribute the vaccines to causing anything. At most, they assert that for a month or so after the baby received a typhoid vaccine, he behaved differently.
      While I do not ignore the parents’ subjective beliefs and their personal claims of relief from feeding the child fresh food and boiled milk, this publication is not a scientifically sound document upon which anyone should base a decision to refuse vaccination.

  2. Majeeda

    You may be right from the perspective of your background. But let me give you a Pakistani’s perspective.
    My child is autistic and here at the clinic in Pakistan we are trying to change our children’s diet to fresh foods and eliminate processed foods and sweets. I would have never believed it if I had not seen with my own eyes one autistic boy having his hearing recovered after just few months on the diet. We don’t know if there are any other factors or not but we know if he had stayed in West, right now he would be undergoing surgery to have cochlear implant. And this is not the first case of a Pakistani autistic child having his hearing restored. But no one in the west seems to be slight bit curious.
    As for vaccines. I am not proposing to ban them, but right now Pakistani children are being force-fed polio vaccines with utter disregard to whether they were ever given the drops before or not. Do a survey of the children being given the vaccine and you will find out strange new facts which no one reports anywhere in the west. Strange!
    Just in case you are wondering, yes my children have been vaccinated and so are everyone’s I know. We have our reservations but we still vaccinate our children, because “we have no proof to choose otherwise”.