Many forgo vaccinations for their children for a multitude of reasons – because it’s against their beliefs, because of its widespread, yet erroneous, link to autism, or simply because it is not required in their state. Whatever the reason may be, the effect of anti-vaccination can be disastrous. Recently, due to the anti-vaccination epidemic, illnesses thought to have been under control are making a resurgence. Illnesses like measles and whooping cough have increased dramatically.
Autism and Vaccinations
A now-retracted British study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield concluded that vaccinations caused autism. This study was called an “elaborate fraud” yet has still left a profound impact on society. The discredited paper has caused many panicked parents to forgo vaccinations for their kids, causing a sharp decline in the number of kids getting vaccinated for measles, mumps, and rubella. Vaccination rates in Britain dropped by 80% following the publication of the study. Wakefield and other researches have been unable to reproduce his results and many of his co-authors withdrew their names from the study. The journal that published his paper also withdrew his study from the issue. They have also found financial motives as Wakefield planned on suing vaccine manufacturers and received $674,000 from the lawyers (5). Since 2003, there have been 9 CDC funded studies checking to see if vaccinations do cause autism – all of them came out as negative (4).
Vaccination Policies & Their Effects
While there are parents who genuinely believe that vaccinations will cause their kids to have autism, they are not the only parents that don’t get their kids vaccinated. A 2012 study of vaccination policies conducted by Saad Omer, a professor at Emory University, found that of the 20 states that allow vaccination exemptions based on personal beliefs, less than a third made it difficult to do so. For example, in “easy” states all that was required to exempt vaccinations was a parent’s signature. In “medium” states a health care provider’s signature was needed. Lastly, “difficult” states required a notarized form or both a form signed by a health care provider and a letter of explanation. Omer suspected that some parents signed vaccination exemption forms not because they are against vaccinations but because they simply didn’t have time to take their kids out and get them vaccinated (8). In fact, according to CDC, far more children remain unvaccinated not because it goes against their personal beliefs but because of unrelated reasons. The study found 49% of those born from 2004 to 2008 had not been vaccinated by their 2nd birthday, yet only 2% harbored anti-vaccination beliefs. They were missing shots for reasons like parents’ conflicting work schedules, transportation problems, or insurance hiccups. An earlier CDC study also concluded that children in poor neighborhoods were less likely to get shots than kids in higher income neighborhoods (2).
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory infection with about 20 million cases every year worldwide. However, since the vaccine was first developed in the United States in the 1960s, outbreaks have been scarce. In 2000, measles no longer occurred naturally in the U.S. There have been cases of measles brought from travelers but the issue recently has been caused by those who do not vaccinate their kids (6).
Last year, there was a record number of measles outbreaks, with unvaccinated kids to blame. There were 22 confirmed cases which were brought over by an immigrant infecting the local population. The outbreak was traced to an immigration center in Arizona where vaccination is not mandatory. In one case a worker in the immigration facility was hospitalized for four days – he had not been vaccinated. In 2015 there was an outbreak of measles with 84 confirmed cases that spread to 14 states. The outbreak was traced back to Disneyland (6). In 2014 there was a record number of confirmed cases in the United States: 667 cases across 27 states. According to the Center for Disease Control, the majority of those who contract measles are unvaccinated and they quickly spread it to their communities (3).
Whooping cough is also a very contagious respiratory infection that causes coughing fits and makes it hard to breathe. Every 1 in 100 babies infected will die (1). But again, according to CDC, “The best way to protect against pertussis is by getting vaccinated.” The number of cases has increased dramatically because of anti-vaccination effects.
In 2012, the U.S. was in the midst of the worst whooping cough epidemic since 1942. One of the states hit the hardest was Washington, suffering from 2,520 cases with a 1300% increase since 2011 (7). Nationwide there were 48,277 cases total (3). Trends are showing that a greater number of children aged 13-14, just after when they should’ve gotten their booster shot between ages 11-12, are becoming infected (7). There were 28,639 cases total in 2013, 32,917 cases in 2014, and 20,762 cases in 2014 (3).