Witless Protection: Consequences of the Anti-Vaccination Movement

syringeThe influence that anti-vaccination advocacy groups have that may cause parents to refuse vaccinations for their children endangers millions of lives. The wave of paranoia inspired by such groups causes parental mistrust of actual expert scientific information, which leaves children vulnerable to terrible, albeit preventable diseases.  The mere idea of children contracting and possibly dying from a preventable disease because of fear mongering and misinformation should be infuriating enough, but because of these advocacy groups spreading these dangerous myths it has become a reality.

The most recent spark of the vaccination controversy emerged from an unexpected source, when the chain restaurant Chili’s’ promotional plan of donating 10% of their patrons’ bill (upon the customer’s request) to the National Autism Association (NAA), a known anti-vaccination group, had garnered a tremendous amount of attention that flooded Chili’s facebook fan page with various comments from both sides of the argument. The arguments attracted enough attention to cause the restaurant to withdraw their promotion, but by that time the reaction was far too large to ignore. What started out as good intentions to raise awareness of a disability that affects the lives of thousands of families had gone viral, the debate the restaurant had inadvertently caused snowballed into something much larger than what was originally planned.

Scholars of health and medicine have ranked vaccination in the top ten achievements of the 20th century. Vaccines have been accredited for numerous public health successes worldwide. For example, the eradication of smallpox and notable decreases in other major diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), and even polio. Yet, vaccinations are still met with opposition and have become a hot topic of many controversies for quite sometime. Recent critics of vaccinations have questioned the safety and effectiveness of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP) immunization, and thimerosal, a preservative containing mercury (ethylmercury).

Anti-vaccination advocacy groups are small, but very vocal when it comes to the promotion of their pseudoscientific agenda. The ramifications of their fictionalized claims against vaccinations pose a very serious threat to children’s health all over the world. Their broad generalizations, unsupported claims, and scientifically discredited data may cause (and have caused) parents to become misinformed about vaccinations, placing the health of their children, as well as those who rely on herd immunity, at risk of contracting a life threatening but preventable disease.

Herd immunity, also known as community immunity, is a form of immunity that heavily relies on the vaccination of the majority population (or herd) as a means of protection from diseases for individuals who cannot develop immunity or simply cannot be medically vaccinated . When the majority population is vaccinated and immune to certain diseases it acts as a form of firewall that prevents or, at the very least, hinders the spread of an illness to those susceptible to them. However, herd immunity only applies to diseases that are contagious not infectious. For example, tetanus is infectious  but not transmitted from person to person, so herd immunity does not protect from tetanus. Because herd immunity does not completely protect the unvaccinated from diseases, it is imperative that those who can be vaccinated should be vaccinated to provide the best possible protection for those who medically cannot and unable to develop immunity.

Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses arise  when widespread vaccination is not available or from the rejection of vaccinations by part of the population. Studies have shown that compromised immunity of diseases that are preventable through vaccines such as pertussis and measles and mumps can be attributed to the parental refusal to vaccinate their children. These studies conclude that the children of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children are at a higher risk of contracting infections as opposed to other children who are vaccinated. These findings show the importance of conveying correct information to those who intentionally fail to vaccinate their children, furthermore this study is an example of how dangerous the extreme misinformation that advocacy groups irresponsibly propagate can actually be.

Recent surveys show that 29% of adults believe that vaccinations can lead to developmental disorders, and among parents who have children that are under the age of 18, the percentage rose to 33%. 50% of the parents surveyed were aware of some sort of study that linked vaccinations to autism, but still only half of those parents were aware that those studies had been retracted and discredited by the scientific community.

Scientific studies have found no evidence linking autism to vaccinations, however   there are multitudes of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks that can be linked to the refusal of immunization:

 

Outbreak of Meningococcal Disease Associated with an Elementary School — Oklahoma, March 2010:

 

CDC Import-Associated Measles Outbreak — Indiana, May–June 2005

 

Influenza-Associated Pediatric Deaths — United States, September 2010–August 2011:

 

CDC Varicella Outbreak Among Vaccinated Children — Nebraska, 2004

 

Mumps Outbreak — New York, New Jersey, Quebec, 2009

 

Pertussis Epidemic — Washington, 2012:

 

The list goes on and can be found here. This list is meant to serve as a precedent to learn from, a visual record to see the past events that could have been avoided. The objective of those in support is to implore those in opposition to grasp and understand that the extensive scientific research is meant to show the importance of immunization. The main issue of argument from those who support vaccinations is not of whether or not vaccines cause autism, but rather the failure to immunize children is a reckless endangerment to their health and well being.

Perhaps the most notorious, misinformed argument the advocacy movement has to say against vaccinations is that they contain many “toxins” such as mercury, antifreeze, and thimerosal, but it seems that they confuse (intentionally or not) the well known toxic mercury, methyl mercury, with the one that had actually been used in vaccines, ethyl mercury, which is an entirely different chemical form of mercury. Similarly with ethyl alcohol, found in alcoholic beverages, and methyl alcohol, the poison found in antifreeze. Thimerosal is the chemical compound used as a preservative in vaccines that contains ethyl mercury, advocacy groups say, that when introduced to the body, can trigger autism despite the fact that ethyl mercury has not been used as an ingredient since 2001.

Regardless of the volumes of scientific evidence that suggest otherwise, concerns over thimerosal have fueled certain groups to lead the “Green Our Vaccines” campaign, a movement to rid “toxins” from vaccines. The main basis of this endeavor is out of fear that these “toxins” may indeed cause the development of autism (and other developmental problems) in young children. “Celebrity” Jenny McCarthy along with her advocacy group Generation Rescue and the organization Talk about Curing Autism (TACA) are responsible for being the driving force behind such activities. Even with her recent attempts to distance herself from the anti-vaccination movement she has  received more attention, and has even come under fire from the Ontario health minister, Deb Matthews, herself calling McCarthy’s contributions to the anti-vaccine movement “outrageously irresponsible” because of how much influence to the public a celebrity can hold. Matthews called a recent measles outbreak in Calgary a “wake up call” for parents who still refuse vaccination for their children. Ms. McCarthy has received so much hate, in fact, that a website called the JennyMcCarthyBodyCount.com was created. The website holds Ms. McCarthy responsible for the number of preventable illnesses (130,730), preventable deaths (1,381), and number of autism diagnoses scientifically linked to vaccinations (0).

Vaccinations are one of the most (if not the most) crucial and effective means of saving lives from a myriad of terrible  illnesses. However, the most impactful immunization methods against the most life threatening diseases are still met with opposition despite irrefutable scientific evidence. Mainly the issues emerge from the gross misinformation that is spread to the public by anti-vaccine advocacy groups. The influence these advocacy groups have on part of the population have proven to have dire implications by giving preventable diseases a second life (especially affecting children). They have been linked to numerous vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks and in some cases end in death. However, it is estimated that 3 million children annually are saved from infection because of vaccines, although 2 million children are estimated to still die because they are not vaccinated. As it seems to me, the only toxic thing about vaccinations is the advocacy group itself.

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One Comment to “Witless Protection: Consequences of the Anti-Vaccination Movement”

  1. One of my childhood friends when she received her routine vaccinations had an adverse reaction, became completely paralyzed, and almost died from the process. Vaccinations aren’t 100% effective or safe for everyone. Her parents sued the drug companies and I don’t know the full expect of the settlements but I know from one company she received 18 million! You know what the funny part is? Her parents aren’t against vaccines, they do however advocate testing to assure that people who will be allergic or have adverse reactions to the process not have to go through what their daughter. There are a lot of problems faced by children who aren’t vaccinated. Aside from the terrible medical issues my friend has, she also had to be home schooled as the public schools wouldn’t accept her. (I don’t know if that’s still the case) I’m not saying vaccines are bad, far from it, but I’m saying that will all medical procedures there is an inherent risk and in this case, the risks outweigh the costs. Why people can’t see that baffles me. They are not only putting their child at risk but the entire nation by giving the disease the chance to be re-introduced into the population. If my friend isn’t against vaccines, I can’t see a reason why anyone can be.

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