Parents have a right to say "no" to vaccines for their children.
The rest of us also have a right to say "no" to allowing those children in public places during an outbreak.
In New York state last week, authorities declared a state of emergency over a measles outbreak that has infected more than 150 people since last fall, The Associated Press reported. In addition, Rockland County has banned unvaccinated children in public places.
Under the New York declaration, which lasts for at least 30 days, anyone under 18 who is not vaccinated against measles is barred from public gathering places, including shopping malls, civic centers, schools, restaurants and even houses of worship.
Those in violation could be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.
The Centers for Disease Control says six states, including Illinois, have measles outbreaks, defined as three or more cases. The CDC says 15 states have had at least one case of measles confirmed, for a total of 314 cases so far this year. In 2014, 667 cases were confirmed nationwide and there were 372 cases in 2018.
The Illinois Department of Public Health, as of March 27, listed six cases so far in Illinois in 2019. The high point for measles cases in Illinois was 2015, when 17 people were infected.
The disease was officially eliminated from the United States in 2000, thanks largely to an overall vaccination rate of 92 to 95 percent. In Rockland County, where the ban is in place, only 72.9 percent of people under 18 have been vaccinated, AP reported.
The vaccine for measles is part of the two-dose MMR vaccine that also covers mumps and rubella. It is among required vaccinations for children entering school, unless the family has an exemption based on medical or religious reasons.
And there's the rub, because not every family believes in the use of vaccines. Some think vaccines can lead to autism; others believe it can lead to cancer. Some believe it's wrong for the government to oversee a family's medical beliefs or practices. Some follow strict interpretations of their religious beliefs.
In America, that's their right, of course. We have the freedom to worship as we choose.
But when someone's religious or personal belief leads to the possibility of spreading a highly contagious illness — an illness that, in extreme cases, can kill — the rest of us have a right to avoid getting sick.
In New York state, authorities have taken a strong stand to protect people from a dangerous disease. We don't like the idea of governmental overreach, but we don't like the thought of an epidemic, either.
In Rockland County, it's better to be safe than sorry.