Protect the vulnerable and reject the ignorant: Anti-vaxxers are putting children in danger
In 2000, the United States declared that measles had been eradicated from the country.
Now, misinformation and fallacious reasoning have brought it back.
Last year, there were 644 confirmed cases of measles across the United States, according to the Center of Disease Control. Last month alone, 102 cases were reported, stemming from an outbreak at Disneyland in December.
Despite having the tools in hand to eliminate measles – and other diseases like whooping cough and rubella – Americans continue to be sickened by these diseases, largely because of the ignorance of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.
Blame for the issues lies with not only the individuals choosing not to vaccinate but also the lax vaccination requirements that allow large numbers of unvaccinated children to continue attending public schools.
This measles outbreak is the continued consequence of a long-discredited study published in 1998, when a British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, claimed to have found a link between the M.M.R. (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism.
Even though his findings were quickly and extensively disproven and labeled fraudulent, despite the retraction of the original study’s publication and Wakefield’s loss of his medical license, the perceived connection between autism and vaccines persists.
Certainly, autism is a feared diagnosis. And yes, parents have the right to protect their children and raise them as they see fit.
But denying a child much-needed medical protection because of inaccurate information and risking the lives of others is not protection, it’s endangerment.
When children are not vaccinated, immunocompromised individuals and infants too young for vaccines are at risk for the disease.
Not everyone can be vaccinated, and as a result, the most medically vulnerable rely on the principle of community immunity – when the majority of a community is vaccinated, the vulnerable minority is better protected.
This doesn’t work when swaths of parents decide not to vaccinate their children, and the problem is exacerbated in times like these – when an outbreak is occurring and voluntarily non-vaccinated children continue to interact with the medically vulnerable.
Disneyland, where the most current outbreak originated, is a standout example of this issue. But for immunocompromised children, classrooms are even more dangerous than Disneyland.
Thanks to anti-vaxxers, it’s not just theme parks that are now dangerous, but places that can’t be avoided, like public schools.
There’s a simple solution to the issue – ending exemptions.
Currently, 48 states allow religious exemptions from vaccines and 20 of those states also allow philosophical exemptions. Parents can check a box, sign a form and send their unvaccinated child to school.
These exemptions make the decision to reject vaccines all too easy for parents. Public schools must protect their students who can’t be vaccinated, not those whose parents say they won’t.
The existence of exemptions suggests that being anti-vaccine is an acceptable, relatively normal stance. It’s not. Rejecting vaccinations is a selfish, dangerous and extreme act that state legislatures should condemn.
The safety of this nation’s children should trump all else. Our laws should reflect that priority unequivocally.