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Immunizing Against the Anti-Vaccination Epidemic

Although vaccines have been considered to be one of the greatest modern medical inventions, and have actually eradicated dozens of deadly diseases, there still remain people who doubt this science. Whether it be misinformation, religious beliefs, or other philosophical reasons, there has been a huge leap recently in the anti-vaxxer population, leading to one deadly outbreak after the next. In order to try and find a way to solve this problem, it is necessary that we look back in history and also understand the true facts about vaccines.

Think you know all the details about vaccinations?…

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My Story

If you want to learn more about my story and interest, click here

Questions to Explore

  • What are the anti-vaccination movement’s beliefs?
  • Is there truth to their beliefs?
  • How has the movement persisted?
  • What are their means of communication and messages today?
  • Is there a way to create a solution that respects the first amendment but also the well being and safety of the country?

History of the Movement

Although many people see the anti-vaccination movement only as a recent trend, anti-vaxxers have existed since the first attempts at vaccination. The movement’s views and beliefs have actually not changed as much as one would assume throughout history, but their means of communicating their messages have evolved not only as vaccines have adapted, but also as legislation has tried to combat this movement.

The idea of vaccinations first spread to the U.S in 1721 after hearing attempts about it in Europe and motivated by the mass amounts of casualties from smallpox. Although Dr.Boylston, the first doctor to perform vaccinations in the United States, had incredibly successful results, he was met with a large criticism. Many said that vaccines violated divine law by either inflicting harm on innocent people or trying to counter God’s will, some even calling vaccines “the devil’s work” (Niederhuber).

The Anti Vaccination League was founded in the U.S in 1879 which spread from London by an influential leader; their overall beliefs and general messages were that people should have the right to choose, as well as the fact that vaccines had poisonous chemicals, didn’t work, and were morally wrong (Wolfe). One of their main means of communications were through pamphlets. These educational pamphlets called vaccines humbug and suggesting that people should just keep clean to avoid smallpox

This argument continued after a huge smallpox outbreak in Massachusetts in 1902 forced the Board of Health mandated that all city residents be vaccinated. However, a man named Henning Jacobsen refused this because he believed it violated his right to care for his body (History of Vaccines). He took his case to the Supreme Court where they ruled in the state’s favor that they had the power to enact laws that protect the public’s health, which was incredibly important because it was one of the first times the government dealt with the difficult topic of freedom of choice vs public health and safety

During the rest of the 20th century, there was not a lot of noise from anti-vaxxers because more science and research was being released about the safety of vaccines

But the group continued to persevere, and in the late 90s, huge public outbreaks against vaccines emerged: there was a documentary aired in 1982 that overexaggerated the health risks of the DPT vaccine, called Vaccine Roulette (Novak). It highlighted mothers talking about their sick children, however, omitting all the benefits of this vaccine. Then, Lisa Bonet went on the Donahue Show in 1990 and said that vaccines “introduce alien microorganisms into our children’s blood” (Ianneli). In 1994 when the first deaf Miss America was crowned, her mother publicly stated that the DPT vaccine was to blame for her loss of hearing. One of the biggest attacks on vaccines was a study published by Andrew Wakefield in 1998 that falsely linked the MMR vaccine to autism, and this myth still lingers today

If you want to learn more about the history, click here

Current Problems

Vaccine hesitancy is 2019’s Top World Health Threat which can be seen through the 30% increase of measles outbreaks (although similar patterns have been seen with various diseases, there is an especially strong correlation to measles) globally (WHO)

On the internet, there are very few rules and restrictions regarding health (mis)information. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest are some of the places that anti-vaxxers go to share beliefs and find fellow minded parents. Facebook is one of the biggest generators of this problem and shows very biased anti-vaccination results, but the company lets it go under people’s right to freedom of speech (Telford).

Anti-vaxxers use emotion and fear-provoking content and stories to try and get their beliefs across rather than scientific backing, and although it may not always be 100% accurate, it draws in a big number of people.
Scientific groups and pro-vaxxers have no online or social media presence which also contributes to more people (young, new parents especially) turn to the emotion-backed provocative anti-vaxxer groups. In 2007 Jenny McCarthy went on Oprah and told her 15 million viewers that the MMR vaccine her son received is what caused his autism, although this has been proven false many times, this emotional story resonated with many concerned parents (Wilson). In this shocking image, anti-vaxxers are comparing vaccines to rape, with the hope of latching on to one’s emotions

There have been successful strides like California (and two other states) banning philosophical and religious exemptions for school vaccines. Nonmedical exemptions are a big loophole that allows many anti-vaxxers to let their children go to school without a vaccine but poses a huge danger to not only their child but the children around them (McCarthy).


Heat map of county-level nonmedical exemption rates from 2016 to 2017

If you want to learn more information about other current problems, click here

Here is an interesting video you can watch if you are interested; it shows two perspectives, pro-vax and anti-vax. These two sides talk about misconceptions of their individual sides, as well as trying to come to a middle ground and finding things they can agree on. If you are interested in what the beliefs are of an anti-vaxxer, this is a really great place to start

My Solution

The first step in my solution is to implement a nationwide removal of nonmedical exemptions for school children. Although it is a big first step, this needs to be a federal law because it is not just a community or statewide concern but these diseases affect the whole nation. This is possible and realistic, and although only a few states have implemented this so far, having it on such a large scale would ensure the protection of this country’s citizen

Another step to take after this would be to have the public health department check the validity of the medical exemptions. This is necessary because a doctor’s note is very easy to obtain because the law currently does not require any proof of a medical condition preventing one from receiving a vaccination. As seen with California when nonmedical exemptions were banned, the number of medical exemptions that following year tripled. West Virginia also banned nonmedical exemptions but included in their law is a similar checking of the medical excuses and they currently have the high kindergarten vaccination rate in the country (Mellerson). This may be more out of reach, especially for states that are already hesitant on mandatory vaccination, but this would fix an important loophole.

If you want more details about my solution, you can read it here

What Can You Do?

  • As individuals, the most important step one can take is to get vaccinated and promote awareness and education about vaccinations. Although it isn’t directly combatting the anti-vaccination movement, it softens the potential harm to vulnerable communities (more people vaccinated = harder for diseases to spread).
  • People can also share more positive and real stories about vaccinations online. Even though statistics show how rare it is for something bad to happen, these events are dominated by the news, and positive-normal stories are truly lacking. Not just on the news but also on the Internet the anti-vax movement has a safe home due to social media companies’ “free speech” policies. Through this, they are able to easily spread health misinformation and can influence and cause confusion to many people.
  • These positive- personal stories, especially from parents, diversify the platform and arguments of pro-vaxxers and draw attention away from anti-vaxxer messages. By attacking the online presence of the anti-vaccination movement as well as closing legislative loopholes, substantial progress can be made against the movement’s influence on our country.

Thank you for reading, please leave any comments or suggestions below!

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COMMENTS: 11
  1. April 26, 2019 by Zachary Yu

    Your website was very interesting to read. I had no idea that anti-vaxxers have existed for so long. I like the pictures and videos that you have which space the website nicely, which make the website easy to read and inviting. I had no idea that religious exemptions existed and your solutions make a lot of sense.

  2. April 27, 2019 by Casey Abernethy

    This is very nicely done. I grew up with a mother who’s a doctor so the idea of people not getting vaccinated is quite different to me. I’m really glad I got educated on why some might not get vaccinated, and I agree that we need to spread awareness that people should get vaccinated. Your presentation is really nice – good job!

  3. April 28, 2019 by Donna Boucher

    I love the way you presented this topic, it made the information very clear and flowed well. The history of anti-vaxxers was very interesting to me since I’d never thought of how people acted towards vaccines when they were first introduced. I think this presentation will help spread awareness of how important vaccines truly are. Also, your solutions are very good and feasible! Nice job 🙂

  4. April 28, 2019 by Christopher.Tam

    This was very interesting. I knew about the issues surrounding antivax, but didn’t know the specifics. The “debate” video was very insightful, since I’ve never really encountered any antivax people in my life. One question I had was: How much progress is being made in other states towards required vaccination?

  5. April 30, 2019 by Kyong Pak

    Great work! A fascinating and relevant topic presented with clarity. I liked your quiz at the beginning, and gained a new understanding of the history of resistance to vaccinations. Well done, Sidney!

  6. April 30, 2019 by Merrill.Buczek

    This is such a relevant and well-done project! I think that currently most U.S. Universities are helping this cause by requiring medical documentation of vaccinations. I think your project is very thought-provoking and proactive!

  7. April 30, 2019 by Courtney

    This presentation was very interesting and I have learned quite about anti-vaccination throughout bioethics and through your presentation. There are many schools and doctors offices that refuse admission or won’t accept people who are anti-vaccination. I think it is super important to spread awareness around this issue and how just one person getting vaccinated can help a whole community.

  8. April 30, 2019 by Maddie Gearin

    You’re presentation is awesome! you have so many details using photos and videos. You relate the history of the anti-vaccination movement to the present dangers we face really well! I didn’t realize that vaccination was actually called the devils work.

  9. May 02, 2019 by Mary.Rogers

    Hey Sidney!

    I enjoyed looking over your presentation as it is a topic that is commonly talked about in both my history and biology classes and just around my school. I found a lot of your information super interesting especially the part about the history behind the anti-vax movement. I also enjoyed the video about the 2 different perspectives of vaccines, pro and anti. Great job on your presentation!

  10. May 03, 2019 by Susanna

    Hi Sidney!

    I really loved how relevant your topic is to arguments today, and how you even acknowledge that by including the Jubilee common ground video. I also loved how you included information not just about the anti-vac movement today, throughout history. Finally, I liked how you included a quiz right in the beginning, as it introduces the reader right away to the facts about vaccination that you plan to cover

  11. May 12, 2019 by Rin Zoot

    I really love your website, and I find it unbelievable that there are still people who don’t believe in vaccines today. I like how you included the history of the anti-vaccine movement, as well as the video which showed the debate between both sides. It gave me a different perspective on how some anti-vaccine people view the issue. Thank you for this amazing website!

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