Why the anti-vaccination movement is more dangerous than you think

As flu season begins and as parents start to go out to get themselves and their children protected against the virulent diseases, it is worth talking about the rise of the anti-vaccination movement and its implications on our lives here at MTHS.

Here in Washington state, legislation allows for philosophical exemption from required vaccinations in school districts. This means that parents can decline to vaccinate their child that would otherwise be required just because of their beliefs, not based on any doctor’s note or allergy that the child may have to the vaccine. This is why the anti-vaccination movement can be so dangerous to us at MTHS and other schools across Washington.

Anti-vaccination has caused massive damage to the integrity of the general immunity of children all across the country, using largely pseudoscientific or fraudulent research as evidence to justify not vaccinating their children. It blindly follows the false studies and sensationalist conjecture that is easily believable for the uninformed and unaware American.

The anti-vaccination movement began in 1998, when a British doctor named Andrew Wakefield published a study supposedly linking vaccinations to autism in 12 children. The British Medical Journal later found the case to be fraudulent, and Wakefield’s medical license has since been revoked.

The impact that the study has had in spreading the anti-vaccination movement cannot be understated, especially in the United Kingdom.

In the years following this study, vaccination rates went down drastically in Great Britain, dropping from 92 percent in 1995-1996 to just 80 percent for measles, mumps and rubella in 2003. In that year, cases of measles rose to just under 200, a huge jump from 2001 when there were nearly zero, according to Public Health England and the United Kingdom’s Health Protection Agency’s data.

This rise in measles cases continued and peaked in the middle of 2012 with 2,030 confirmed patients, according to the same Public Health England data. The epidemic has since been curbed, but the blame for it rests solely on false information perpetuated by Wakefield and his followers.

In the United States, the impact of Wakefield’s study was much more indirect and also delayed. The real catalyst of the movement, at least in the United States, was the actress Jenny McCarthy. McCarthy’s son, Evan, was diagnosed with autism in 2007. She then publicly claimed that her son’s diagnosis was due to the mumps, measles, rubella (MMR) vaccine. This claim was never confirmed by a doctor or proved by any evidence.

McCarthy went to Oprah, Larry King, CNN and People magazine talking about her son and his diagnosis, along with her mistaken claim. From there her anti-vaccination mantra only spread more to the American public. The protective nature of parents across the nation made it easy for many families to turn away from vaccinations for their children, despite the lack of scientific evidence or proof that would warn loudly against this practice. In 2008, one year after McCarthy’s crusade began, it was reported by the CDC that 66 percent of measles patients in the United States opted out of the MMR vaccine due to personal philosophical beliefs.

Since then, measles outbreaks have been more consistent. Most recently there was a measles outbreak in Los Angeles in which 87 measles cases were traced back to Disneyland. It is important to note that children are the most at risk of death via measles, but they are the ones not being vaccinated thanks to the disillusioned anti-vaccination movement. It is clear in the Disneyland case that places with lots of children are most at risk of an outbreak, which can extend to other places of recreation and schools.

Schools without proper school-wide vaccinations are at extreme risk of an outbreak. The damage that the anti-vaccination movement has done to schools, especially in states without strong vaccination requirements, is frightening.

The fact that any parent can place their unvaccinated child in a public school is simply asking for an outbreak, especially as class and school sizes grow, causing students to be in closer and closer contact with each other. The risk of contracting a disease as harmless as a cold or as deadly as measles grows.

In the Edmonds School District, vaccination exemption rates are all below 6 percent, with Edmonds Woodway at 5.6 percent, Lynnwood and Meadowdale both at 4.6 percent, and Mountlake Terrace at 3.4 percent, according to the Washington Department of Health’s data compiled by the Seattle Times. That means we have the lowest percentage of students here at Terrace exempting from vaccination, but that does not mean we are far from danger. One student with a contagious disease like measles can spread to many more, creating a dangerous outbreak.

As a community, we have to recognize the facts. We, as informed Americans, cannot let conjecture, sensationalism, pseudoscience and our celebrity culture dissuade us from making the smart choice. Vaccinations are at the pinnacle of medical advances over the last few centuries and we cannot let fear-based reasoning and the mob mentality of the anti-vaccination movement lessen the significance of our greatest defender against mankind’s greatest enemy: disease.