Following the measles outbreak that started at a California-based theme park earlier this year, legislators in several states introduced bills to limit vaccine exemptions.

The stakes

These efforts sparked debate about who should take control of children’s health: parents or the government. Some parents, angry that their right to refuse vaccines for their children might be taken away, rallied outside of capitol buildings and testified in front of legislatures.

Unfortunately, what these parents failed to appreciate was that vaccines are probably the single best way to control our children’s health. A choice not to get one’s children vaccinated is a choice to lose that control—to put them at unnecessary risk of diseases that can hurt them.

In context

Before vaccines, parents were afraid of many childhood diseases—so afraid that they would keep their children out of swimming pools and send them to the country for the summer to prevent polio. Or they would take them to chickenpox parties, hoping that their children would be less likely to be hospitalized if they got chickenpox when they were younger.

These choices were considered necessary because it was the only way to protect their children from harm. Today, parents can employ the power of vaccines to control their children’s exposure to polio, chickenpox and a dozen other ravaging infections of childhood. Independent of state laws regarding vaccine exemptions, the real power is in choosing to vaccinate.