By IONA BATCHELDER
The outbreak of measles that began in Disneyland around mid-December has now spread to seven states and Mexico. This spread is shocking for many reasons, most of all because in 2000, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) declared that the United States had eliminated measles. While elimination does not mean complete eradication (such as how smallpox has been eradicated-destroyed), it means that any new measles cases would have come from individuals traveling to the United States.
Measles is an extremely preventable disease, thanks to a vaccine invented in the 1960s that fights measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). Certain parents throughout America, however, seem to believe that they know more about medical science than trained doctors and therefore, are simply not vaccinating their children.
According to the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), West Virginia and Mississippi are the only two states that require vaccinations — with no exemptions based on parents’ personal or religious beliefs — for all medically able schoolchildren. As such, the CDC reports their vaccination rates for children entering kindergarten at 99.7% and about 96%, respectively. According to the NY Daily News, public health officials say that the immunization rate must be at 90% to minimize the potential of a disease outbreak.
Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children not only endanger their own children, but also endanger other children who cannot be vaccinated due to medical conditions. Anti-vaxxers, as they have come to be called, present many arguments that are absolutely false.
“Vaccines Cause Autism”
In 1998, medical journal The Lancet published a study by British doctor Andrew Wakefield. The study had dramatic implications; Wakefield claimed to have found a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
Shocked by the claim, many scientists conducted more investigations. Since 1999, studies of various sample sizes from 500 to 14.7 million children have all shown no connection between the MMR vaccine and autism.
When others picked apart Wakefield’s study, they found that he had only surveyed 12 children, too small a quantity to conclude any claim, especially a controversial one like Wakefield’s claim that the MMR vaccine caused autism.
Then, it was found that Wakefield had been paid $600,000 by attorneys trying to prove the vaccines were unsafe. Wakefield’s medical license was revoked in May 2010, and more than a dozen years after the study was published, The Lancet retracted the study. Wakefield’s study, however had a profound effect on the world: today he has thousands of supporters who, according to The New York Times, regard him as “Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one.”
According to The Washington Post, his supporters commonly harbor a “deep distrust of the government” and think they know better than public health officials. It does not even matter to them that Wakefield has been disgraced. He continues to fiercely defend his absolutely false views and garner support from thousands of ridiculous individuals from around the world. Wakefield’s study is complete malarkey, as they say, but that in my mind is not the worst part. The very thought that parents would rather risk their children dying from measles, mumps or rubella rather than risk their children living with autism is astonishing.
Firstly, one in 68 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder. The autism spectrum is wide, and many people can be slightly on the spectrum and still have quite normal lives. For example, Bill Gates is on the autism spectrum, and he is one of the most famous and intelligent people in the world. While certain forms of autism can be debilitating, that fact does not excuse these ignorant parents’ willingness to voluntarily risk their children’s deaths from truly preventable diseases over the possibility of contracting autism, a belief that they still believe despite Wakefield’s study being refuted repeatedly.
“The Only Purpose of Vaccines is to make lots of money for ‘Big Pharma”
Another conspiracy theory circulating online suggests that these vaccines do nothing other than make “big pharma,” pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and Merck, large amounts of money and that doctors and companies only strive to make money when they tell parents to get their children vaccinated.
Firstly, vaccines represent a small portion of pharmaceutical companies’ profits. In 2013, the World Health Organization estimated that global revenues for all vaccines were around $24 billion, only 2-3% of the total pharmaceuticals market. In fact, vaccines had such small profit margins that many companies stopped making them. Since vaccines are only administered once a year or once a lifetime, they have extremely low profit margins compared to drugs that require daily doses. While the vaccine industry is probably more profitable now than in earlier decades, that should not be by any means an incentive for parents to exempt their kids from vaccinations.
According to The Atlantic, pharmaceutical companies need people to vaccinate because “regardless of profits the economic and social benefits of vaccination are huge—in lives and the billions of dollars saved.” In fact, a study released last year estimated that fully vaccinating babies resulted in $10 saved for every dollar spent on the vaccines, or about $69 billion total saved.
Again, while vaccines do make pharmaceutical companies some money, the most important note is that vaccines are safe and extremely effective. That fact alone should be an incentive for parents to vaccinate their children.
“Vaccines have harmful side effects and are unsafe”
Some children cannot be vaccinated for various reasons. Some are too young; the age for the first dose is 12-15 months, so children who are younger have a 90% chance of contracting measles, according to the CDC.
Others have medical complications; if they have cancer, are recovering from cancer, are allergic to specific parts of the vaccine or have other problems, they simply cannot be vaccinated, so they rely on a true and tested concept known as herd immunity.
Herd immunity can be explained like the following. Imagine that you are building a fort, and every person who is vaccinated is a brick in the fort. This fort keeps becoming stronger and more fortified against diseases as more and more people are vaccinated. It also protects those who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons. However, when someone does not get vaccinated, he or she represents a hole in the fort. In certain ultra-religious communities, for example, there are whole pockets of unvaccinated children who have built up virtually no fort; therefore those communities are much more susceptible to measles outbreaks. Those who try to disprove herd immunity are simply wrong: it is a proven scientific concept.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and CDC, for herd immunity to work for measles, 83-94% of the population needs to be vaccinated. This number is reachable, but due to the selfish and uninformed opinions of some misinformed parents, more and more children are not being vaccinated. The measles cases that have stemmed from this Disneyland outbreak have also shown that today’s doctors do not know how to treat measles. Since the introduction of the vaccine in 1963 and the elimination of measles from the U.S. in 2000, measles has become extremely rare. Therefore, many doctors simply do not learn how to treat measles anymore. People nowadays have simply forgotten how harmful measles used to be.
Choosing not to vaccinate their children is the most selfish decision parents can make. The medical and scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that vaccines are not only successful, but also necessary.
Vaccinations should be mandatory for all Americans, unless they are medically unfit to receive them. There should be no personal, philosophical or religious exemption because not choosing to vaccinate children can change the world for the worse.