Why is it that even as science moves forward with new discoveries, there are those who don’t trust, whose fear makes them want to hold back, with no link to rationality? Perhaps the best example of this is the so-called anti-vaxxers—those, predominantly parents, who fear that vaccinations are unsafe and can cause more problems than they prevent.
This is provably untrue, and the medical and scientific communities overwhelmingly support vaccination. But fears do not usually succumb to reason.
According to RationalWiki,
The anti-vaccination movement is a loosely-organized conspiracy theorist subculture that blames the medical practice of vaccinations for a wide range of health problems. The movement, to a large majority led by people with no medical or scientific qualifications (or, ironically, stripped credentials), is based largely on spuriously alleged short- and long-term side effects of vaccinations…. The anti-vaccination movement fails to gain traction outside of social media, then by necessity they argue that some kind of cover-up must be taking place, that the vaccines serve an agenda completely different from disease prevention. [Emphasis added.]
That agenda is typically seen as the pharmaceutical industry’s push for riches.
How do you prove a negative—the absence of a conspiracy theory?
As for the claimed harmful effects of vaccines, studies purporting to demonstrate this have been debunked. One that gained publicity involved actress Jenny McCarthy’s claim that her son contracted autism through a vaccination (for MMR—measles, mumps, and rubella [aka German measles]). At least one flawed study about this connection has been rebuked and withdrawn.
Isn’t this just a matter of personal rights? If a parent, however misguided, does not want his/her child vaccinated, should they not have that right? No. Even aside from that child’s susceptibility to disease, not vaccinating children puts others in that community at risk.
The concept of herd immunity states that the vaccination of a high majority of persons in a group is necessary to stop the spread of the disease; the vaccinated become a barrier through which the disease cannot pass. The fewer the number vaccinated, the greater the probability that the disease will spread. According to one study, unvaccinated children have a 35 times greater chance of contracting measles.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out that smallpox was eradicated in 1979 because of the exceedingly high number of persons who were vaccinated.
This debate gets political. Are individual rights always supreme, such as to libertarians? Or are some issues so essential to the good of the community that they outstrip those of the individual?
Are vaccines required by law? For adults, No. For children, only to be admitted to school. However—and this is a giant loophole—28 of our 50 states allow exemptions for medical or religious reasons, and 19 add the “philosophical” category. A study has shown that the incidence of disease is highest in areas of the country with the highest numbers of nonmedical exemptions.
What has been the result? In one famous case in 2014, an outbreak of measles that originated at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, highlighted vaccine refusal and related disease outbreaks. This outbreak was associated with 111 cases (accounting for two-thirds of the total measles cases reported by April 2015) in seven US states, Canada, and Mexico. Approximately half the cases were among unvaccinated persons, most of whom were eligible for vaccination yet intentionally remained unvaccinated.
In recent years, diseases that have made a comeback include measles, mumps, whooping cough, and chicken pox.
What can be done? As with many questions that becomes political in our society, individual v. group rights come into play, along with the extent to which the law should be involved. What is undeniable, however, is that parents’ fears—perhaps superstitions—are causing more children to get sick, and not just their own.