The Epidemic of Anti-Vax

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By: Emily Davis

Most people probably have vague recollections of red faced tantrums or wailing cries in the middle of the doctor’s office when they received their first vaccinations. Now, who remembers getting polio when they were younger? Right, no one. Because everyone got vaccinated.

Due to recent events, however, even those who have never missed a booster could be at risk of contracting deadly viruses. In February, an alarming spread of the measles in California and surrounding states reached the classification of an official outbreak by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control). The measles virus is potentially deadly and extremely contagious, with a 90% chance of catching it following direct exposure.

How did this happen? After all, the measles vaccine has been available since 1963 and in 2000, the CDC considered this same virus to be eradicated. The answer  is the Anti-Vax movement. These parents choosing not to vaccinate their children, represented by organizations like Vaccination Liberation and the National Vaccine Information Center, has risen in small numbers since the late 90’s, and they pose a serious risk to the general public.

The Anti-Vax movement disrupts a medical concept called herd immunity, which operates under the idea that everyone who can get vaccinated does so, and therefore those who can’t are not at risk, protected within this immunized “herd”. These at-risk individuals include infants too young to receive their first shots, those with allergies to ingredients, and people with compromised immune systems. Immunosuppression typically occurs as a result of chronic illness, and renders victims highly susceptible to disease and infection.

This is actually the main reason I care so greatly about vaccines, as I grew up in a family with two people diagnosed with chronic diseases, and I know firsthand the extreme risk these individuals will encounter because of anti-vaxxers. Herd immunity can be easily broken by even a small percentage of infected, unvaccinated individuals, and these parents choosing to endanger their children inadvertently threaten the lives of my family members, and so many others like them.

The CDC reported 178 cases of MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) across 17 states between January 1 and March 20. The outbreak of 2015  began at Disney World, the happiest place on Earth. The official report states that “the majority of people who got measles were unvaccinated,” and that the original carrier likely contracted the virus overseas. This comes after a dramatic increase of outbreaks since its eradication in 2000, with 23 outbreaks in 2014 alone.

So how did the number of measles cases go from nearly 0 in 2000 to a total of 650 last year? It’s kind of an embarrassing story. In 1998, Andrew Wakefield (previously MD) published a now discredited paper in the British medical journal, The Lancet, which reported a connection between MMR vaccine and Autism.

His study was enormously flawed, only using 12 test subjects to make claims about an entire population. Any AP Environmental student knows that this is a crucial mistake, and they would get points off if this error was not addressed in their lab report’s conclusion. Follow up studies, including an extensive study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy, consisted of hundreds of thousands of children and revealed no evidence of connection between vaccines and autism.

Wakefield’s was a historically bad paper, and despite being stripped of his medical license and having his paper withdrawn from The Lancet, a story as sensational as autism-causing vaccines drew mass media’s attention, and it quickly found its way to concerned parents around the world. Particularly, irrelevant celebrity Jenny McCarthy took a strong, unqualified position on the movement, and spread its influence even further. So began the parade of ignorance and illness.

This fear of the unknown only added to Wakefield’s false argument when later, concern grew among parents over a now withdrawn preservative in vaccines called thimerosal, which contains the component ethylmercury. However, ethylmercury is not the same as the toxic, mercury. There existed no actual present threat in ethylmercury, but this ingredient infuriated parents, who felt that there children had been poisoned and lied to by the medical community.

Vaccines, in a word, are miraculous. Many causes of widespread deaths hundreds of years ago are now just a tedious 5 minute wait at the doctor’s office. Modern medicine saves lives every day, without anyone appreciating the fact that they were at a risk in in the first place. Of course, there are side effects, and definite risks that come with vaccines that, in isolated cases, have resulted in deaths of people with allergies to certain ingredients. However, consulting a doctor with concerns is the best course of action, not Internet forums and untrustworthy website reports.

Despite popular opinion, parents do not always know best. The truth is that most parents are not trained to be the ultimate caretakers of children. They don’t receive education degrees, so kids are sent to teachers to be given a proper education. Likewise, most parents don’t come prepared with medical degrees. They depend on doctors to mend their children’s broken arms and treat their sore throats. So, why don’t people trust them with their kid’s vaccinations?

Take it from people who have lived in generations where there was no MMR vaccine; it’s a blessing. In fact, according to , 73% of individuals 65 and older think that vaccines should be required for children. Only 42% of people 18 to 29 agree. This is likely because they have never had to deal with friends and family passing away from preventable viruses. Perhaps it is impossible to know the value of vaccines unless one has lived in a world without their security. Unfortunately, this could become a reality very soon. Please, get vaccinated, and spread the word.

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