The First Nail in the Coffin

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The First Nail in the Coffin

David Rudd, Staff Writer

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The age of information has allowed any man, woman, and child access to any set of data imaginable with extreme ease. A quick internet search can display thousands of articles, research papers, and studies regarding a massive variety of topics. However, this rapid and simple way of communication has led to the instant and worldwide spread of rumors. Many of the rumors spread are harmless, but others call into question the solid, evidence-based works of scientists, and have led to a public health crisis in many states across America. Now, these states are taking action.

The decades-long falsehood linking vaccines against fatal diseases to the developmental disease of autism began because the diagnosis of the disorder is often made just after the first time a child is vaccinated. This rumor was then spread by multiple high profile individuals including Robert F. Kennedy Jr, the nephew of John F. Kennedy. Kennedy has been reprimanded by his own family for his dangerous beliefs. Contributing heavily to the belief that autism and vaccines are linked was a 1998 study by Andrew Wakefield. That study, however, was immediately shut down by other scientists who claimed the study was based on faulty methods. Ultimately, the study was retracted by its publisher in 2010, and the Wakefield lost his medical license. While the study was negated nearly a decade ago, many groups of people continue to refer to this study to support their misguided cause.

Parents who decide against the vaccination of their children pose serious threats to society. The threat impacts the child first and foremost. They are now at risk of catching one of many preventable diseases, which cause life long damage and are potentially fatal. Such diseases include measles, smallpox, and polio. These parents don’t only pose a threat to their own children Unvaccinated kids can spread diseases to those who are vaccinated (as vaccines are not 100% effective,) and can also pose a threat to children who medically cannot be vaccinated because of health problems. The term ‘herd immunity’ is used to describe the “indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a large percentage of a population has become immune to an infection [through vaccines,] thereby providing a measure of protection for individuals who are not immune.” This effect occurs because as more people who are protected, it becomes increasingly unlikely for any given individual to be sick and spread disease. 95% of the population must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. In Europe, 91% of the population is vaccinated and the rate is even lower in England where just 87% of children are vaccinated. This slight difference in vaccinated kids can cause catastrophic damage to thousands of people in a community. In order to prove the effects of herd immunity, the CDC often uses a case in Japan. The CDC states “In 1974, Japan had a successful pertussis (whooping cough) vaccination program, with nearly 80% of Japanese children vaccinated. That year only 393 cases of pertussis were reported in the entire country, and there were no deaths from pertussis. But then rumors began to spread that pertussis vaccination was no longer needed and that the vaccine was not safe, and by 1976 only 10% of infants were getting vaccinated. In 1979 Japan suffered a major pertussis epidemic, with more than 13,000 cases of whooping cough and 41 deaths. In 1981 the government began vaccinating with acellular pertussis vaccine, and the number of pertussis cases dropped again.” This effectively proves the dangers of a population which leaves many unvaccinated. However, many Americans contributed to the repeating of history. In 2019, measles has been revived and is spreading at an alarming rate. In just the first six months of the year, measles cases in the US reached quadruple digits and spread to 31 different states. This approaches the combined total cases of measles diagnosed in the US for the rest of the decade. 

The dangers of leaving a child unvaccinated are evident; however, many continue to leave their kids unvaccinated citing certain protections to avoid mandatory shots. Due to this, states around the country have cracked down on these exemptions. For example, New York and California repealed religious exemptions, which many have used to avoid vaccines. These bills had mass support in legislatures and the public. This is only the beginning of the work that needs to be done to protect against the spread of preventable diseases. Even greater support has come from the New York State Government. This summer they passed a bill that requires children to be vaccinated against numerous diseases in order to attend any preschool and all public schools. This has caused 26,000 kids in New York City to be stranded without a school to go to. These kids did nothing wrong and are now stuck without a solid education from public schools because their parents will not vaccinate them. Parents will now have to vaccinate these kids or send them to certain private schools. This was most certainly the move necessary to protect millions of kids. West Boca High School requires all students to be vaccinated against a plurality of diseases unless there is a legitimate medical or religious exemption.

The anti-vax movement doesn’t only affect Americans, however. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it no longer considers the UK, Albania, Czech Republic, and Greece as measles free. The disease, once eradicated as the result of decades of progress in disease prevention, has been re-established. The need for worldwide eradication is crucial as diseases can easily spread when people travel. Many countries, including the United States, require vaccinations when people travel to high-risk countries. This has helped prevent the international spread of disease.

Parents around the country have threatened the lives of the nation’s kids (including their own) in order to stand by their scientifically disproved beliefs. Facebook has seen large communities of parents gather to fight against the science of vaccines. These rampant groups have become so large that entire Instagram accounts have been made to expose and laugh at the ignorance of these individuals. Earlier this year Facebook announced that they will crack down on these groups and the spread of the harmful disinformation being spread. Youtube followed in Facebook’s path and announced that they will fight against videos pushing anti-vax disinformation. The video streaming giant will provide fact-based links underneath anti-vax videos and will not suggest more videos pushing these falsehoods. The director of the WHO has stated, “Social media platforms are the way many people get their information and they will likely be major sources of information for the next generations of parents. We see this as a critical issue and one that needs our collective effort to protect people’s health and lives.” Governments and platforms around the world face the responsibility to control the spread of misinformation to protect people’s lives.

Anti-vaxxers around the country risk their child’s health, because of the belief that their child may develop a mental illness. These communities thrive because close-minded individuals value their opinion and “team” over the real scientific evidence, which has proven, many times over, the value of vaccines to an ever-crowded society. The CDC has uploaded a full page of information to their site debunking any connection between vaccines and autism. Despite the intentions of anti-vax supporters, their misinformed beliefs have caused a regression in medicine that affects the health of people throughout the world.