This symposium explores the intersection of confessional traditions and medical science, exploring the public health concerns surrounding vaccinations and the rise of the anti-vaxxer movement, while seeking resources from within various faith traditions to articulate a theopolitics of vaccination. We have invited scholars of religion, clergy, medical professionals, and jurists from a variety of disciplinary and faith perspectives to provide their analysis and critique succinctly and passionately, in order to help navigate a complicated and sensitive public health issue.
2019 proved to be a record-setting year for the global measles outbreak, affecting 181 countries, and recording the highest number of cases since 2006. Measles is highly contagious, requiring a high community level vaccination rate of 95% to prevent sustained transmission. While measles is no longer endemic (constantly present) in the US, the growing number of parents refusing to vaccinate their children has contributed to a resurgence of the disease, and the CDC has reported the highest measles case count in 25 years.
As the parent of a leukemia survivor who was immunocompromised during treatment, I recall having to cancel air travel plans because of a 2015 measles outbreak in California: we could not risk exposing our son to infection. Immunization is a public health concern that affects all members of society, and while we need to be respectful of religious and ideological differences, our Constitutional tradition has always balanced private and personal rights with the greater or common good. In the case of highly contagious diseases for which there exist safe and reliable immunizations, it is imperative that our society do what it can to protect the most vulnerable among us – infants, the elderly, and those like my son who are immunocompromised.
Vaccine hesitancy, the refusal to be vaccinated or to have one’s children vaccinated against contagious diseases, has been identified by the World Health Organization as one of the leading threats to global public health. Medical science assures us vaccines work, albeit with minimal yet manageable side-effects, but the anti-vaxxer movement keeps growing. Our goal for this forum is to jumpstart a meaningful conversation across confessional lines involving religious practitioners, medical professionals, and legal experts in order to articulate a thoughtful, respectful, and practical response to this growing crisis.