Until recently I had written off “the anti-vaxxers” as alarmists. A few years back I watched Jenny McCarthy eloquently present her case that vaccines caused her son’s autism. As a parent, I needed to know if there was any scientific foundation for her fear that a routine immunization caused her son’s autism.
A quick Google search led me to copious amounts of data that debunked her fears(here is a good quick fact sheet by the World Health Organization). Still curious, I talked to my kids’ pediatrician. He was annoyed at the attention talk shows and the news media were giving McCarthy and others that shared her views. He reassured me vaccinations were not only safe but prevented life threatening childhood diseases.
Satisfied that vaccinations were safe, I filed the “anti-vaxxers” and their fears in the same place I put people that believe in ghosts, Area 51, and the Bildabergers. Their ideas were curious but had no impact on my life or anyone in it.
I didn’t think much more about it until reading that President Trump met with Robert Kennedy Jr, an anti-vaxxer, to discuss vaccine safety. I was stunned to find that sometime in the last 5-10 years, the anti-vaccine movement had become an issue championed by Tea Partiers, Libertarians, other conservative groups as well as many liberal groups.
State governments are being actively lobbied to enact “personal belief” laws. These laws allow parents to opt out of mandatory vaccinations for their children if the parents “believe” vaccines are harmful. At least 17 states have adopted “personal belief” laws.
The argument in support of “personal belief” laws is that THE GOVERNMENT should not force parents to vaccinate their kids. It is should be a parent’s right to choose what is right for their child. One parent’s decision not to vaccinate does not hurt anyone else.
That sounds reasonable except it is completely wrong. Unvaccinated children represent health risks to all of us. Here’s how:
- Vaccines fail up to 10% of the time. This means that if a vaccinated person comes into contact with someone who has the say the measles, the vaccinated person has a 10% chance of getting sick.
- Medical/scientific studies show that at least 90-95% of the population must be vaccinated to prevent outbreaks of diseases like measles, chickenpox, mumps and whooping cough. This is referred to as herd immunity.
- Not everyone can be vaccinated due to medical reasons like allergies, certain chronic diseases, pregnancy, short term illness etc. These people have no protection in the event of an outbreak.
- Infants and small children(under age 5) who are not fully vaccinated are also at increased risk in the event of a disease outbreak.
- Currently 94% of school age children in the US are fully vaccinated. This is dangerously close to falling below the level needed to establish herd immunity.
These are not just fancy numbers. Real people are getting sick and in some cases dying. A simple Google search turns up multiple cases of outbreaks of the vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, mumps, chicken pox and whooping cough.
Tragically, a 2013 outbreak of whooping cough in Texas, the largest since 1959, resulted in the deaths of 5 infants.
Think of it this way THE GOVERNMENT steps in a regulates many behaviors that are dangerous to the health of others like driving under the influence and public smoking. Why should vaccination be treated differently?
What needs to be done?
- Stop assuming anti-vaxxers can not harm the health of your family. They can and will if this trend continues.
- Talk with the parents of your children’s friends and school mates and make sure their children are vaccinated. This is especially important if you have an infant, small children or family members who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons.
- Determine if your state has or is considering enacting “personal belief” laws. Pew has identified states that currently have these laws.
- Let your state government officials know you do not support “personal belief” laws.
- Support organizations like Voices for Vaccines, that support vaccinations through advocacy and public education. Many other state and local organizations exist and can be found through a simple Google search.