Think About the Children, Anti-Vaxxers
The measles outbreak in Disneyland this year progressed at a startlingly rapid pace. January 7th: the public was warned of a Disneyland visitor who could be linked to seven confirmed cases of measles in California and Utah. January 8: Utah officials disclosed that both cases in their state were not vaccinated. February 3: Los Angeles County confirms 17 of the 21 measles cases are linked to the outbreak triggered at Disneyland.
This outbreak has vaccination as well as anti-vaccination proponents up in arms. Vaccination is a personal decision made by a parent for their child, but unvaccinated children risk transmitting contagious diseases at school, while playing with friends, or in public places; all unknowingly. Should it be mandatory for parents to vaccinate their children in the interest of the public health of the community? Or is it a matter of personal belief
Jennifer Hibben-White, a mother of a 15-day old boy in Toronto, Canada, wrote an emotional post on Facebook after she had been informed her son had been exposed to measles during a routine check-up. She wrote, “You know what vaccines protect your children from? Pain. Suffering. Irreparable harm. Death.” Most striking of all, Hibben-White continued, “I do know one thing: If you have chosen to not vaccinate yourself or your child, I blame you,” highlighting that the effect of not vaccinating is beyond the decision of the parent.
An article in the Chicago Tribune reports that a 90% vaccination rate at schools is important to maintain “herd immunity – a critical level of protection that prevents an epidemic from taking hold and spreading rapidly.” However, a cause for public concern is the increasing amount of parents who claim vaccination exemptions on philosophical and religious grounds. In Illinois, the numbers surged from 8,248 in 2009-2010 to 12,527 in 2013-2014.
In some cases, there are children who are too weak to receive injections, and thus must rely on the community to be healthy. A mother whose young child was diagnosed with leukemia wrote on Voices for Vaccines “It is more than enough to ask a young child to fight leukemia – but to ask him to fight a vaccine-preventable disease on top of it? It is unconscionable.” Anti-vaxxers, as anti-vaccination proponents are colloquially known, should take into consideration the lives of others when deciding against vaccinating a preventable disease.
On the anti-vaxxer side, Dr. Russell L. Blaylock wrote in 2008 on the danger of excessive vaccination during brain development causing autism, schizophrenia, and neurodegenerative diseases. He deplored society for allowing “proponents of vaccination safety [to] just say they are safe, without any supporting evidence what-so-ever, and it is to be accepted without question.” However, the anti-vaxxers’ evidence between autism and vaccination seems to rely more on anecdotal evidence from parents that anything else. Studies do document the presence of some heavy metals in vaccinations that are known to cause autism. But correlation does not imply causation.
Furthermore, the father of the anti-vaccination movement, Andrew Wakefield, himself fabricated a research paper detailing the link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism and bowel disease. He was stripped of his medical license when the research paper was found fraudulent and no other medical researcher could replicate Wakefield’s findings.
Unfortunately, vaxxers and anti-vaxxers’ arguments both have merit. Risks are either community exposure to disease or lifelong neurological disorders. To advocate for more conclusive scientific evidence would be counterproductive; hundreds of studies exist, the problem lies not in the evidence, but the interpretation of the evidence.
These studies on the supposed correlation between vaccines and autism ignore a simple fact about vaccination: that no medical procedure, no matter how advanced or rigorously tested, is completely safe or benign. After all, in the case of vaccinations, these procedures literally inject dead pathogens – those that carry measles, polio, etc. – into a living host. To say that such a practice is totally without risk is ignorant. But for millions of Americans, many of whom no longer suffer from the diseases that were once the scourge of mankind, the risk, which is minor at best, is worth it.
Ultimately, given the outbreak of measles at Disneyland and the wellbeing of the public, the safest bet would be on vaccinating your children. The anti-vaccination evidence is too circumstantial to condemn other families and other children to exposure to deadly diseases.
- Kathy Dimaya