Measles and the Complexities of Vaccination Liability

Things students should bring home from school: homework, stories about new friends, and fun facts they learned during their lessons.

Things student shouldn’t bring home from school: measles!

What is Measles?

Over the past few weeks in Pinellas County, three people have been diagnosed with measles, a disease that hadn’t been seen in the county in 20 years. With the new outbreak coinciding with the start of the school year, some people are pointing fingers at a suspected culprit: unvaccinated children.

Measles is a highly contagious infection that often affects young children. Its symptoms include:

  • fever
  • coughing
  • sore throat
  • blotchy rash
  • tiny white spots on the inside of the mouth
  • conjunctivitis, or inflammation of the eyes

It can lead to health complications like pneumonia, encephalitis, and laryngitis. It can be fatal for very young children or children with compromised immune systems. If a pregnant woman contracts measles, it can also increase the risk of early labor and low birth weight.

Throughout history, measles wreaked havoc on people across the world. It is blamed for the deaths of eight million children worldwide before a vaccine was introduced in 1968. Once the vaccination became widely available, the rate of measles significantly dropped in developed countries like the United States. It was eradicated as an endemic disease in the United States by 2000, but still affects non-vaccinated people.

Why do Some People Oppose Vaccines?

If someone does not vaccinate their children, or avoids vaccination themselves, it could be for a variety of reasons. Some people are not able to receive vaccinations due to certain health conditions, like allergies. Other times, people oppose vaccinations because of their religion. This is most common among Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists. Most other major religions do not take an explicit stance on vaccination. Finally, people might also avoid vaccinations because they have heard they cause an increased risk of autism.

If someone wants to avoid vaccinations for measles and other diseases, that is their prerogative. But when people who are medically able to receive vaccinations do not, it can put others at risk. For example, if a child is unable to receive a measles vaccination due to their health or age, they are at a high risk of contracting measles from an unvaccinated classmate or friend. Unvaccinated people are not only at risk of contracting measles themselves, but may also unintentionally spread the disease to others.

Can I Sue Someone for Spreading an Illness Like Measles?

That said, it is rare for people to take legal action against unvaccinated people who spread a contagious disease. To prevent the spread of preventable diseases, vaccination is likely considered a reasonable action. This means that technically, someone could be seen as causing harm through negligence if they do not take reasonable action. But in order to do so, the harmed person would have to prove that one individual was responsible for their illness. They would also need to prove that the illness was intentionally spread. Since it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact root of an illness and because the spread of illness is usually unintentional, it is rare to see a case in which someone successfully sues someone for getting them sick.

What About Suing Someone for Mandatory Vaccinations?

On the other side of things, some might worry that they could be forced to vaccinate. In certain workplace environments, particularly healthcare, vaccinations might be heavily encouraged. This is because being unvaccinated could be a serious health risk for young or compromised patients and clients. But even so, most workplaces will likely have alternative options, like wearing a mask, that keep the workplace safe without forcing people to violate their beliefs. Public schools also require vaccinations against illnesses like measles, polio, and chickenpox, but their parents can ask for a religious exemption.

Tips for Staying Healthy

Whether you chose to vaccinate or not, there are still some steps you can take to prevent a measles outbreak in your community:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and face
  • Avoid close contact, like sharing food or drinks, especially with people who are sick
  • If you are sick, stay at home and keep sick children away from classmates, friends, and others until they recover

Vaccinations are a currently a complex and hotly-debated topic in the United States, but in the face of measles outbreaks like the one in Pinellas County, everyone should do what they can to prevent the further spread of illness.

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The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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