November 2018: 36 individuals contract chickenpox in a school in North Carolina, in which 110 out of 152 individuals are unvaccinated against chicken pox, largely due to religious reasons. This is the largest outbreak in North Carolina in two decades.
January 2019: A measles outbreak in near Portland, Oregon occurs in an area with low vaccination rates; 20 out of 23 infected have not been vaccinated against measles.
April 2019: New York declares that individuals unvaccinated against measles must get vaccinated or pay a fine. The policy is a direct response to the March outbreak in Rockland County; 285 individuals in NY have been infected with measles since Fall 2018.
The debate on vaccines—and whether their benefits outweigh their risks—has been brought back into public light following the recent outbreaks. Areas with low rates of vaccination or high anti-vaccination sentiment are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks if a pathogen is reintroduced from oversea traveling.
Moreover, herd immunity for diseases such as pertussis and measles requires 95% of a population to be vaccinated to protect individuals who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons—a concept known as herd immunity.
Vaccine hesitancy is one of ten entries on The World Health Organization’s 2019 list of greatest global threats.
Vaccine Hesitancy: Origins
Modern-day vaccines—first conceptualized by Edward Jenner in 1796—work by introducing modified (harmless) forms of a bacteria or virus to the immune system. The immune system develops antibodies to the pathogen and can thus recognize and eliminate the pathogen upon future exposure.
There is less than a 0.000001 (1/1,000,000) chance of having an allergic reaction to a measles vaccine. Choosing to opt out of receiving a vaccine has much more serious risks. 80% of 183 children who died from influenza in 2018 did not receive a flu shot. 90% of unvaccinated individuals who come in contact with the measles virus will contract the disease.
Andrew Wakefield, the author of one of the first anti-vaccination sources (linking MMR vaccines to Autism), has had his article unpublished from the Lancet and his medical license revoked for conflict of interest, but much of the movement still hedges on his work—or similar ideas (that vaccines are a cause of mental illness or disability).
Some proponents of Wakefield’s argument use the increase in vaccination rates and the increase in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) cases to contend that vaccines are in fact an environmental cause of autism. However, the higher number of autism cases is—at least in part—due to an increased understanding of the ASD allowing more diagnoses to be made.
Furthermore, scientists have since repeatedly disproven Wakefield’s claims: this study by Copenhagen’s Statens Serum Institut, spanning from 1999 to 2010 and involving over half a million individuals, supports the medical consensus that there is no link between MMR vaccines and autism.
SciShow explains why the anti-vaccination movement has held its appeal:
My Thoughts (and A Song)
I respect that parents should be entitled to their own decisions when making personal choices for their children, but this isn’t merely a personal choice; due to the nature of herd immunity, if people choose not to have their children vaccinated and the percentage of the population that is vaccinated drops below a certain threshold (about 90-95%), others who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons become at risk.
We cannot be complacent. Vaccines have turned national epidemics into diseases which are practically obsolete in the U.S., but if we stop vaccinating we put ourselves at risk. In Japan, the reduction of vaccination rates in children for pertussis—from 80% vaccinated in 1974 to 10% vaccinated in 1979—followed an increase from 393 annual cases of pertussis (1974) to more than 13,000 (1979). History repeats itself if we let it.
I’ve offered the science; now all I can offer is my voice.
You stack alternative facts and hypotheses,
Reject scientific consensus to be at ease.
Tell yourself it’s just a government conspiracy,
Like everyone’s out to get you, I see.
I understand you are concerned, you think it’s common sense,
But we’re looking at facts and numbers in present tense.
Epidemics start again if we have no defense,
The choice you make is made at someone else’s expense.