Given the threat of biological warfare, should the government make vaccines mandatory or make them available on a voluntary basis?Biological warfare is the use of pathogens such as bacteria,...

Given the threat of biological warfare, should the government make vaccines mandatory or make them available on a voluntary basis?

Biological warfare is the use of pathogens such as bacteria, fungus, and toxins to kill or incapacitate. The use of biological and chemical warfare has a long history, from poisoned arrows to Sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subways in 1995 and Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against the Kurdish people in 1988. These types of attacks are much harder to predict or control. Some of the fears of contracting a disease disseminated by biological warfare include the spread of small pox. Given the threat of biological warfare, should the government make vaccines mandatory or make them available on a voluntary basis?

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The vaccination debate that currently rages in some circles regarding school age children points to the trickiness of the proposal of mandatory vaccination.

On the one side, proponents for vaccination feel that everyone is safer from disease if vaccination is carried out on a 100% level with everyone being vaccinated. Vaccinating school kids keeps everyone's children safer from certain illnesses. 

Opponents for mandatory vaccination say that it is a fundamental right to choose whether or not to vaccinate. Certain people believe that preemptive medication is misguided, that disease predictions can be overblown, or harbor significant concerns about the mechanisms of vaccination and the safety of these mechanisms.

I think I have to side with those who claim the right to withhold themselves and their children from vaccination, even if, in the school setting, this mayput other people in a position of increased risk. Because the increased danger is only probablistic and not definite, the argument for enforcing vaccination seems less than persuasive. 

In order to mandate vaccination, the benefits of vaccination and the risks of not vaccinating would need to be entirely clear, based on definite evidence, and not anchored on probability. That's my opinion, but it may be worth pointing out my opinion on this is not exactly set in stone. This is a tricky issue. For sake of conversation though, this is my position today.

When it comes to the possibility of chemical warfare, there would seem to be many options available to protect the public outside of mandatory vaccination, such as safe-houses, face-masks, underground shelters, etc.
belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I am absolutely against mandatory vaccination in the same ways that I am against most mandatory anything. However, there is a disconnect between biological warfare as it is usually understood and the sort of protection that vaccines provide. Generally speaking, biological attacks use synthetic agents such as Sarin that cannot be vaccinated against; they are called biological because they attack the human biology, not because they use biological agents. If a biological agent such as anthrax is used, it can be vaccinated against; however, this sort of attack seems to be extremely rare and so the cost of vaccinating against a possible attack would be prohibitive.

Mandatory vaccinations would be appropriate if there was a pandemic sweeping the nation -- not a media-inflated scare like H1N1 and Bird Flu, but a real pandemic quickly affecting major portions of the population. I would still be resistant, but in a case like that it might be acceptable ifthe result is that deaths are averted. Otherwise, the threat of major biological attacks is (at least in my superficial reading) minimal enough that mandatory vaccination would not result in a significant positive effect.

It is interesting to note that biological warfare is commonly considered beyond the pale, and biological attacks tend to be perpetrated by individual groups on a small scale. I feel that if a large-scale attack was set in motion, there wouldn't really be enough time for a mandatory vaccination schedule to be effective; it is better for intelligence to find and facilitate the destruction of  bioweapons programs before they can be used.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I believe that vaccinations for biological weapons are a good idea, especially in densely populated or high risk target areas, but I am against them being mandatory.  Many people are concerned about vaccinations because of some of the hazardous materials used in the making of the vaccines.  In addition, there will undoubtedly be companies out racing to create new vaccines to protect against possible terrorist targets (and thus gain big government contracts), and some of those vaccines might cause more harm than the threat they are designed to safeguard against.

In Texas there was a major problem with mandatory vaccines.  Governor Perry made the HPV vaccine mandatory in Texas while receiving very large donations from Merck, the pharmaceutical company that produces the vaccine.  Merck stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars if the vaccine was required in Texas.  The public outcry against this legislation was enormous, as questions about the drug's safety abounded, and the Texas Legislature overturned Perry's decision.  No one will know for sure of the lobbyists were the main cause of Perry's legislative action, but it does bring about a very important question.  How can we ensure that a vaccine is in the public's best interest when the company that makes the drug is spending millions of dollars influencing politicians that it is in the publics' best interest?

I am most assuredly in favor of making a vaccine available to people if they desire protection, but I am adamantly against their requirement under our current state of political influence by lobbyists.



shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It depends on the degree of the threat. It will be an expensive proposition to do it on a large scale, and forcing immunization will be seen as a rights violation by some. But for something that is considered a credible threat and that would cause severe public harm it would be worth thinking about.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I do think that vaccines should be mandatory.  People who don't get the vaccine will get infected, and then infect other people.  Some people can still get sick because people around them do, before they get the vaccine or even though they got it.

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