Controversy over vaccines intensifies as measles spread
By Maeve O’Brien, ’16
In autumn of 2014, public hysteria broke out over Ebola. The nation seemed consumed with fear of this infectious disease, anticipating a plague-like outbreak. The news of Ebola was everywhere, plastered across headlines and social media.
Public response could have been called an overreaction. While dangerous, Ebola can only be transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids. Today, the U.S. faces the issue of measles, which hasn’t incited as much public concern as the four laboratory-confirmed cases of Ebola in the United States, according to The Washington Post.
Since the beginning of 2015, 156 cases of the measles have been confirmed across the nation, which is considered to be a widespread outbreak. Measles poses a threat to public safety because it is easy to contract, as it can be transmitted through coughing or sneezing, surviving up to two hours in the air or on surfaces. The vaccination for measles is very effective, with a 99 percent success rate upon the second dosage, according to The Guardian.
Dr. Randy Brown, a pediatrician in Upper Arlington, consistently stresses the importance of vaccination towards the parents of his patients who challenge the vaccination schedule.
“Vaccines are likely the single most important health measure ever created,” Brown said. “Polio and smallpox and even pertussis had caused thousands of deaths per year in the pre-vaccine era.”
The prevention of measles relies heavily on the concept of herd immunity, which entails that the vaccination protects the entire population if 92 to 95 percent of people choose to get vaccinated, thereby eradicating the disease. However, an increasing number of people are choosing not to vaccinate for personal beliefs, which endangers the idea of herd immunity, proliferating the outbreak of measles.
Some people cannot medically receive the MMR vaccine, including babies under the age of 1 and patients receiving chemotherapy or immune-suppressive therapies. These people rely on others to maintain herd immunity to protect them from getting the disease.
All states have immunization requirements for students attending public schools; however, most states have instituted exemptions for religious beliefs, and 20 states have provided exemptions for philosophical or moral beliefs. West Virginia and Mississippi are the only states that do not provide any type of exemption. In Mississippi, 99.9 percent of kindergartners are vaccinated, according to CNN.
The Amish, for example, have religious reasons for resisting vaccination. This is a major factor that allowed an outbreak of measles in Amish communities across Ohio last year.
Others refuse vaccination for non-religious reasons. One group that has received considerable media attention is the “anti-vaxxers,” who don’t vaccinate for an array of personal convictions, including the widespread belief that the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism and to protest against Big Pharma.
This movement was started by the British scientist Andrew Wakefield, who published a study in 1998 linking the MMR vaccine to autism. It was later found that his manuscript was falsified and the hypothesis couldn’t be proven, so the journal retracted the study. Wakefield is no longer allowed to practice medicine.
However, some anti-vaxxers still regard Wakefield in high esteem. The internet is full of blogs and online forums where anti-vaxxers congregate. One blogger, Eileen Dannemann, describes Wakefield as a saint and compares Merck, the pharmaceutical company that produces the MMR vaccine, to Josef Mengele, the notorious Nazi doctor, according to The Guardian.
“There are no links between the MMR vaccine and autism. But online, the link between the two remains, ironically, virulent.” Nicky Woolf of The Guardian wrote.
The anti-vaccination sentiment has sparked pro-vaccination messages to diffuse through the media, from newspaper articles to satirical Tweets.
“The anti-vaccine junk science has real consequences,” Jonathan H. Adler of The Washington Post wrote, “because it encourages parents not to vaccinate their children.”