Ever since Jenny McCarthy, et. al., came out against vaccination, people on social media have waged war on each other over the issue. Despite the majority of scientific evidence, some people insist vaccines caused adverse health effects such as autism in their children. As a result, some parents refuse to immunize their children despite the public health risks.
Modern TV illustrates the struggle with popular series like “Law and Order: SVU” tackling the anti-vaxxer issue. But while such shows may entertain, few genuinely wish to return to the days of iron lungs for polio sufferers. Why are people against vaccines, and how can we educate them to the science?
Why Are People Against Vaccines? Can We Blame the Internet?
Doctors often bemoan the WebMD tribe — armed with mountains of printouts, patients storm their offices, convinced they’re suffering from any host of dreaded and rare diseases.
However, such websites do offer verifiable information and provide a valuable service, especially for those who cannot afford to visit a health professional. Individuals can find accurate information, for example, about herbal remedies such as oregano oil, a product science supports the efficacy of.
The problem comes in when people not associated with the scientific community publish findings based upon little more than their subjective observations.
Doing so ranks as effective as explaining to a toddler the sky is blue because God has blue eyes and is always watching. While those of certain religious faiths may believe this to be true, researchers know the sky gets its signature color from shorter blue light rays reaching the planet first.
This is where Jenny McCarthy makes her appearance. After her son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 1/2 years, she jumped on Dr. Google, seeking answers. While her quest is understandable, in publishing her claims on her site, a horde of parents with similar concerns began questioning whether they should provide their own children with vaccines tried and tested over decades.
Nor is she alone — celebrities like Jim Carrey also cast aspersions on the usefulness of vaccines.
The Value of Vaccinating Children
Because many diseases prevented by vaccines, such as measles, have not occurred often, parents sometimes underestimate the seriousness of these illnesses. Even diseases such as chicken pox, which many people had as kids, carried off an estimated 100-150 children per year prior to the development of the varicella vaccination.
The only way to protect the innocents who cannot receive vaccination for any reason is to immunize every child who is able to tolerate the vaccine. This is the reason many schools require proof of vaccination records prior to enrollment. One sick child could potentially injure countless others with autoimmune disorders or other illnesses.
However, when it comes to the law, exemptions to vaccination requirements exist. Many jurisdictions allow parents to opt out of vaccinating if they pose a religious or philosophical objection. In many states, these objections are not documented or verified — the parent simply checks a box indicating their preference.
Society can begin seeing the impact of the anti-vaxxer movement in the state of New York. Since January of 2019, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) identified 1,182 measles cases, 75 percent of which occurred in the Big Apple. Those who have not been vaccinated — babies too young and those with compromised immune systems — suffer most.
Complications of measles include dehydration from nausea and vomiting, pneumonia, febrile seizures and in rare cases, liver, eye or even brain infection. In some cases, the disease proves fatal. Pregnant women who contract the disease may miscarry or deliver prematurely.
Refuting The “Science” Those Against Vaccinations Cite
Parents sometimes mistakenly believe if their child eats a healthy diet, gets adequate exercise and takes their vitamins, they’re rendered impervious to any disease. However, think back to the last time you had a cold. Did eating nothing but salads ward it off? Did hitting a spin class cure your sniffles?
Other parents believe vaccines contain toxins such as mercury, formaldehyde and antifreeze. While it is true vaccines do contain trace amounts of aluminum and formaldehyde, the amount is lower than what a child absorbs through basic environmental exposure.
Finally, some claim the failure of certain flu vaccines proves the inherent lack of effectiveness of all vaccines. This isn’t supported by evidence. For example, the smallpox vaccine eradicated naturally-occurring strains of the disease as of 1980.
Vaccines Save Lives
The only way to protect public health from dangerous infectious diseases is through routine immunization. Parents do well to listen to scientists, not celebrities, when it comes to choosing what’s right for their children. The power to choose between life and death lies in responsible parents’ hands.