I just finished up Paul Offit’s Vaccines course offered for free through Coursera.org. I found this course to be an excellent introduction to the science and history of vaccines which anyone could benefit from regardless of their background. This is particularly important because the act of having children has such a low barrier to entry, yet it immediately puts one in the position to be responsible for another’s life.
I highly recommend this course to anyone who is interested in vaccines, interested in immunology, interested in disease, has children, might have children in the future and really anyone who wants to take their citizenship in the world seriously.
The last lecture on vaccine exemptions was especially informative to me as it discussed not only the current trend in vaccine refusal, but also explored the historical and legal history. Listening to this lecture reminded me of a question that has always bubbled on the back burner of my mind: What are the legal ramifications of vaccine refusal for the physicians who care for these patients? My feeling is that allowing parents to elect to refuse vaccines for their children is akin to asking their doctor to practice sub-standard medicine, something that is often prosecuted in malpractice cases.
Consider the case of Typhoid Mary, who spread her eponymous disease through preparing baked goods in New York. When she was finally tracked down, she was forced to become “quarantined on North Brother Island in a tiny cottage separated from Manhattan by the East River.” Her freedom was certainly infringed upon for the good of the public. Was this a reasonable course of action by the authorities?