Despite the fact that the anti-vaccine movement’s arguments have been debunked, their theories are still affecting public opinion.
This theory originated from a study by Andrew Wakefield in 1998, which claimed the vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella infection cause autism. Wakefield only examined 12 children, some of whom exhibited autism symptoms some time after receiving the MMR vaccine. His paper was published in The Lancet, but was quickly retracted and debunked. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention thoroughly investigated this issue and found no credible evidence to back his claims. Further investigation found that Wakefield was receiving money from a law firm working with parents who were suing vaccine manufacturers.
The diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder in children can range from mild to severe impairment. According to geneticist Wendy Chung, one out of 88 children are diagnosed with ASD. That number has increased in the past few decades, along with the number of vaccines we give children. Opponents of vaccinations support their theory by stating that vaccines are the cause.
Chung says the definition of autism has been expanded to include a wider spectrum of symptoms, so more children have been diagnosed. When legislation was passed in the late ’80s to provide educational resources to autistic children, more children were examined for ASD and diagnosed. Children often exhibit autism symptoms around the same time they are vaccinated which is why there is a correlation between the two. But correlation isn’t causation.
Thimerosal is another argument the anti-vaccine movement attempts to use in their fight. Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative that was used in many children’s vaccines in the ’30s. Although the CDC found no evidence implicating a causal relationship between thimerosal and autism, Chung said, it was removed from vaccines in 1999. The number of autism diagnoses still increased, which further discredits the anti-vaccine movement.
According to a 2011 Thomas Reuters-NPR poll on public health, more than 20 percent of Americans think vaccines are unsafe. More than 21 percent of the respondents believe vaccines cause autism and 23.5 percent of respondents have changed their views on vaccines in the past five years. This may be a result of the number of celebrities that have hopped on the bandwagon.
This movement has acquired spokespeople, such as Alicia Silverstone and Jenny McCarthy. They are not scientists or doctors, but have the ability to spread the message to a larger audience. Many parents have listened to medical advice from famous actors instead of the facts. This is a problem because children are only vaccinated at their parent’s discretion.
The CDC recommends certain immunization schedules from birth to adulthood. However, vaccinations are not required by any federal law. Every state has laws requiring certain vaccinations for children before they enter into the public school system. This is to prevent the spread of diseases to other children, just as some doctors refuse to treat people who have not been vaccinated so as not to cause an outbreak amongst patients. Immunization not only protects the individual receiving the vaccine, but prevents an epidemic in our country.
Vaccinations are one of the most valuable and effective methods of health care. According to a study done by Rino Rappuoli and co-authors, communicable diseases were the leading cause of death in the 1900s. Since 1924 vaccines have prevented 40 million cases of diphtheria, 35 million cases of measles and 103 million cases of childhood diseases. The invention and induction of vaccines into regular medical care has drastically changed life expectancy. Second only to clean water and sanitation, vaccines have improved the quality of life for many populations in developed nations.
The World Health Organization estimates that vaccines prevent around 2.5 million deaths per year, which means vaccines still have a large impact on today’s society. Our society has advanced in many ways but the need for vaccines is still present.
The anti-vaccine movement endangers the human population. If children are not vaccinated, diseases such as polio, measles and smallpox, which our generation is virtually a stranger to, can rear their ugly heads once again. It is easy for a country that has not experienced a deadly epidemic in this century to forget how detrimental communicable diseases can be. It is only through the invention of vaccines that these diseases have become history. They could easily become our future if we do not vaccinate our children.