A disturbing number of parents refuse vaccinations for their children because they believe immunization poses a risk of autism. They don’t believe the science proving not only the wisdom of being immunized, but the folly of the autism claim. And the consequences of their actions are beginning to emerge. In the first five months of this year, 288 cases of measles were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
That’s the highest year-to-date total in 20 years.
The CDC report was clear that the reason for measles’ renewed vigor in the U.S. was because more people are rejecting vaccination — 200 of the 288 cases occurred in unvaccinated people. And in 1 of 5 of the rest, vaccination status couldn’t be determined, so the 200 figure could well be low.
Measles is not just an inconvenient episode of itchy, red skin bumps. It can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis and even death, especially for children and infants.
Loyola University Health System in Chicago is renowned for its work in infection control and prevention. In a statement last month, Dr. Jorge Parada, its medical director for infectious disease, said, “People who consciously opt out of vaccines are depending on herd immunity — that enough other people will get vaccinated so as to prevent infection — which seriously undermines the herd immunity they depend on for safety. It's a numbers game, and America is losing ground in the fight against preventable disease.”
People in the anti-vaccination movement generally are affluent, educated and privileged. They have no excuse for choosing to be ignorant. They are vocal, but why anyone grants them a bully pulpit is mystifying. That question was plumbed by a recent episode on TV’s satiric “Daily Show," which was at once hilarious and painful.
We’ve regularly expressed our astonishment that people are so eager to accept bunk; that they are not, in fact, protecting their children from autism by withholding vaccinations, but instead are increasing their risk — and that of other people — of measles, polio and whooping cough. (See our blogs, “Feds Say Childhood Vaccine Schedule Is Safe and Effective” and “More Proof That Vaccines Have Nothing to Do With Autism.”)
The CDC noted that the three largest outbreaks of measles so far this year “occurred after introduction of measles into communities with pockets of persons who were unvaccinated because of philosophical or religious beliefs.”
“Religious, philosophical or personal reasons are not medical reasons for not getting vaccinated,” Parada said. And although that’s a harsh judgment, it’s based on concern for society at large.
Sometimes, the individual must sacrifice for the greater good, but in this case, it’s not even about sacrifice — when the reasons behind the anti-vaccination movement have been proved to be bogus, the only thing you’re sacrificing by doing the responsible thing is willful ignorance.
Some people have legitimate medical reasons for not being immunized — they might be allergic, or pregnant, for example. (See the CDC’s guide to who should not get vaccinated here.) These are the people most vulnerable to contracting disease when others opt not to protect themselves.
People who shun vaccination play the odds that they won’t get sick, but do they have the right to play with other peoples’ odds?