Misguided Anti-Vaccination Movement Needs to Stop

For ninety percent of families in America it is routine. On those regular checkups at the doctor’s office the doctors would occasionally pull out the needles. All the child notices is a slight pinch, and it’s over. What kids don’t realize is that the dreaded syringes contain the solution to numerous diseases that once wreaked havoc on the population of the United States. Recently some parents have forgotten this fact and are refusing to vaccinate their children. It is almost like vaccines have done their job too well–not only eliminating the disease, but also the fear of contracting the disease.

In the past few years the disturbing trend against vaccinations has been growing. It contradicts all science and is fueled by conspiracy theories and internet hoaxes. A quick search in the Internet reveals an astounding number of pseudo-medical sources with cherry-picked information that is sometimes misleading or just false. Most health organizations around the world agree on this topic, yet some parents still aren’t sure.

The arguments against vaccines range from causing autism to containing poisonous mercury. The majority of vaccines do not contain mercury. Even the one flu shot that does contains less mercury than a can of tuna. The autism myth began with a since retracted article by Mr. Andrew Wakefield, who claimed a connection between the MMR measles vaccine and autism. Wakefield was thoroughly disproven and despised by the medical community for his dishonesty. An article by Autism Speaks explains, “A meta-analysis of ten studies involving more than 1.2 million children reaffirms that vaccines don’t cause autism. If anything, immunization was associated with decreased risk that children would develop autism, a possibility that’s strongest with the measles-mumps-rubella [MMR] vaccine.”

The worst part about the situation is that not vaccinating one child doesn’t just affect that one person. As explained by USA Today, herd immunity works only when nearly the whole herd joins in. When some refuse vaccinations and seek a free ride, immunity breaks down and everyone is more vulnerable.Vaccines are not 100% effective, and if the unvaccinated child were to contract the disease it would have the possibility of infecting the children whose parents listened to the scientific evidence and got vaccinated. By not getting vaccinated, you are obviously at a significantly higher risk of contracting the diseases we protect our population from. In the measles outbreak of 2013, 82% of the infected were unvaccinated. In the year 2000, the United States had declared that measles was eliminated, but the anti-vaccine movement has revived the epidemic.

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Graphic based on official CDC statistics and created by Leon Farrant.

Nevertheless, vaccines are not for everyone. Individuals with weakened immune systems from diseases such as AIDS, leukemia, and hepatitis, or people who are currently moderately to severely ill, should not be vaccinated. A healthy body is necessary to react appropriately to the weakened germs injected in a vaccine. The basic concept of a vaccine is to build up antibodies that can fight the disease if you were to come into contact. This is sometimes done by injecting weak or dead germs into the body, prompting an increase of antibodies as a reaction. Herd immunity is vital to keep those with weakened immune systems safe. Once herd immunity is compromised, these people will have no defense against infectious diseases such as polio, measles, and mumps.

In the United States especially, vaccines have to undergo a very rigorous procedure before being mandated or recommended. It often takes ten to fifteen years for a vaccine to be developed. After being created, every vaccine has to undergo three phases of trials. The third phase often involves tens of thousands of subjects to detect even the most unlikely of side effects. Even after vaccines are released, they are closely monitored by the CDC and FDA. Obviously, if a major problem was present it would be noticed, with millions of Americans taking the vaccine.

Vaccines work. As illustrated by the diagram, diseases such as diphtheria, measles, mumps, polio, and smallpox have been nearly eradicated in the United States. The small amount of cases now are usually accounted for by imported outbreaks, brought to the country by a traveler coming from a less vaccinated area. UNICEF says that “Immunization is one of the most successful public health initiatives. Each year, immunization averts an estimated 2-3 million deaths from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough) and measles – life-threatening diseases that disproportionately affect children.”

Vaccinating your child is not a matter to be taken lightly. Don’t let the conspiracy theories overshadow the scientific evidence. The risks of a vaccine heavily outweigh the natural risks of disease.

Feature image courtesy of gideononline.com.

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