Sydney Singer: “Should Vaccinations Be Mandatory in Hawaii?”

On Wednesday, November 18, the Hawaii County Council will again consider Resolution 237-09, providing exemptions from vaccinations. At the core of this resolution opposing mandatory vaccinations is a deep sense of distrust — distrust of Federal and State governments that may want to impose their will on the public, as well as distrust of the pharmaceutical industry and its vaccination products and research.

Distrust is a major social disease of our time. The root cause is that we are a society that puts money before people. This is as true for medicine as it is for politics. Years of abuse of the sacred trust the people place in their leaders has lead to our current state of distrust.

It seems strange that the County Council is addressing the issue of mandatory vaccinations, which is typically a federal and state government concern. However, it makes sense when you consider that this is the smallest governmental body in our system. It consists of councilmembers who are our neighbors and friends. This makes the County Council the most accessible and responsive to our individual concerns.

So I understand why this resolution is being brought to the County Council. And I also understand why it is important that the Council support this resolution. The people need some assurances that they are being heard, that they can trust government at least on this local level.

The County Council may be small, and its decisions may seem trivial on the state and national levels. But it is the closest the government ever gets to hearing and responding to the voice of the people. In this sense, the County Council is the most important governmental body we have. It is here that our trust in government and authority can be mended.

As for the issue of getting vaccinated against disease, flu or otherwise, all medical treatment should be at the discretion of the individual. It is our most basic freedom to make decisions about what goes into our bodies.

However, the government does serve a legitimate function in preventing and controlling infectious disease epidemics. We live in a time when few, if any, of us experienced the horrors of smallpox, polio, Bubonic plague, and other killer diseases. Quarantine is a common practice to stop the spread of these diseases. I have also been told by military personnel of villages in Africa being bombed to stop the spread of Ebola virus.

Vaccination is another method for controlling some diseases.

While vaccines all have potential adverse side effects and vaccination programs always result in some unintended injuries and even deaths, public health officials consider these costs worth the benefits. Public health officials consider society as a whole. People, to them, are statistics. And like generals conducting a war, these healthcare warriors fighting an infectious disease are willing to accept civilian casualties if it means winning the war, which, to them, means most of the public survives the epidemic.

To those individuals and their families who become the casualties of that war, however, the cost is dear, sometimes too dear for them to accept. Vaccinations may help society as a whole, but it could harm some individuals who otherwise may have survived.

This is the conflict between public healthcare and private healthcare. Our government officials focus on society as a whole, while we the people focus on ourselves and our families. Unfortunately, what is good for the whole may not be good for us as individuals, and vice versa.

As a society based on individual freedom and an inalienable right to life and liberty, the thought of forced vaccinations is abhorrent. That is why current laws have respected the right of individuals to refuse vaccinations. However, if someone spreads a deadly disease to others, we no longer can be regarded as individuals, but as members of a social group. At that point, what’s good for the group could outweigh the choices of any one individual.

Again, this abrogation of individual freedom is only justified in extreme life-threatening situations. At those times, quarantine and vaccination are appropriate. We must accept some loss of personal freedom when at war, whether that enemy is human or microbial.

That is why we need to trust our leaders. When they declare war, they take away some of our freedom. However, this is a power that can, and has been, abused. We no longer trust our leaders to give us the full, honest story.

When is it time to declare a health emergency and declare war on a disease? The answer to that depends on your point of view. To the drug industry, government purchases of vaccine and treatment drugs is an economic boon. And given the fact that the current swine flu epidemic is no more deadly than the regular flu, the worldwide rush for vaccines seems more like an economic stimulus plan for the pharmaceutical industry than anything else. However, people will die from the swine flu, and from the seasonal flu. Does that make this an emergency, worthy of forced vaccinations or quarantine?

I propose the following answer. If people are debating the severity of a communicable disease, then it is not severe enough to warrant intrusion into personal freedom with mandatory vaccines or quarantine. If people were dying in the streets from a new plague, and everyone was afraid to go outside for fear of contracting it, then there would be no debate. The war would be real, and people would know it and comply with the strategies used to fight it.

I do not believe this is a time for such a war. And since the state and federal governments are not forcing this swine flu vaccine on the public, clearly they agree.

Why, then, vote to support this resolution? It is because it is a resolution to respect the rights of the people to be individuals, and not some statistic of a public health official. As a resolution, it has the weight of conscience, not law. But it is this conscience of respect for individuals that needs to be reaffirmed. It will not impair the ability of state and federal health officials to protect us in times of war. It will just tell the authorities that we care about our individual freedom, and that we will not easily give up our personal sovereignty without just cause.

Sydney Ross Singer, Medical Anthropologist,
Director, Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease
P.O. Box 1880, Pahoa, Hawaii 96778

Hawaii Wildlife Center Update

Media Release:

Construction at the Hawai‘i Wildlife Center (HWC) is progressing along with continued fundraising efforts to insure project completion.

Cement truck and progress

The Center’s foundation was recently poured following installation of plumbing and wastewater systems. Framing begins next and will be followed by roofing and siding, all planned for completion before the end of 2009.

“We can see excitement building as the community follows our progress,” said Hawaii Wildlife Center President and Director Linda Elliott. “We are now working hard to raise the last 24% of construction monies by the targeted February 2010 completion of the exterior of the Center. This next phase of building funds, estimated at $800,000, will include the completion of the interior and education facilities of the HWC.

“We are grateful to our supporters and the design/construction team that have gotten us to this point,” Elliott enthused. “We are also pleased to report that due to material donations and discounted services from participating suppliers and sub-contractors we are coming in under budget for the exterior phase of construction.”

Even as the holiday season approaches and the Hawaii Wildlife Center celebrates this latest construction and fundraising benchmark, help is still needed to complete all phases of construction by summer 2010.  Tax deductible donations of any amount are accepted and each one is considered critical in making this wildlife conservation and response resource a reality.

Foundation

The HWC will be the first native wildlife emergency response center in Hawaii. The Center’s goal is to save, rehabilitate and release threatened Hawaiian wildlife back into the wild. The HWC will also train volunteers and agency staff to respond to oil spills and other catastrophic events.

Donations may be mailed to the Hawai‘i Wildlife Center , PO Box 551752 , Kapaau , HI 96755 or may be made securely online through HWC’s web site, www.HawaiiWildlifeCenter.org.

District 5 Office Will be Moving Dec 1st

County Council vice chair Emily I. Naeole-Beason announced today that she is moving into restrictive quarters in order to save money for the County.  She is moving into the Pahoa Election office at the Malama Market Place in Pahoa.  According to vice chair Naeole-Beason, the Election Office is being closed for budgetary reasons and the County is required to pay the rent on a long term lease. Council vice chair Naeole-Beason said, “Even though it is a sacrifice to move into a smaller place I feel that it is important to save our County money in these difficult economic times”.  In making this move, Council vice chair Naeole-Beason will be saving the County $14,525.

China Joins Thirty Meter Telescope Project

Media Release:

The National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC) has joined the Thirty Meter Telescope Project (TMT). As an Observer, China will participate in planning the development of what will be the world’s most advanced and capable astronomical observatory.

“The TMT is delighted to take this exciting new step forward in our relationship with the National Astronomical Observatories of China,” said Henry Yang, chairman of the TMT board and Chancellor of the University of California, Santa Barbara. “We appreciate their interest in contributing to this important international endeavor, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Chinese astronomical community in fostering China’s collaboration in the TMT project.”

“We believe that the Thirty Meter Telescope will provide an otherwise unattainable opportunity for the Chinese astronomical community to make significant discoveries, perform cutting-edge science, and advance technological development,” said Jun Yan, director of the NAOC. “We believe our joint effort will foster a successful collaboration on this world-class project, and we hope to build high-technology, core components of the telescope.”

“As the first step in a three stage process, Observer Status provides a framework for the detailed discussions needed to establish full partnership in the construction and operation of TMT,” according to Edward Stone, vice chair of the TMT board and Caltech’s Morrisroe Professor of Physics.

“We warmly welcome our Chinese colleagues, who will expand the international involvement in the Thirty Meter Telescope Project,” said Professor Ray Carlberg, the Canadian Large Optical Telescope project director and a TMT board member. “This new collaboration broadens the pool of talent and demonstrates the interest of national governments in TMT.”

When completed in 2018, the TMT will be the first of the next-generation of ground-based optical observatories. This revolutionary telescope will integrate the latest innovations in precision control, segmented mirror design, and adaptive optics to correct for the blurring effect of Earth’s atmosphere. Building on the success of the twin Keck telescopes, the core technology of TMT will be a 30-meter segmented primary mirror. This will give TMT nine times the collecting area of today’s largest optical telescopes and three times sharper images.

The TMT has begun full-scale polishing of the 1.4-meter mirror blanks that will make up the primary mirror. TMT also has developed many of the essential prototype components for the telescope, including key adaptive optics technologies and the support and control elements for the 492 mirror segments.

The TMT project has completed its $77 million design development phase with primary financial support of $50 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and $22 million from Canada. The project has now entered the early construction phase thanks to an additional $200 million pledge from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Caltech and the University of California have agreed to raise matching funds of $50 million to bring the construction total to $300 million, and the Canadian partners propose to supply the enclosure, the telescope structure, and the first light adaptive optics.