Anti-vaccination or pro-preventable diseases?

Sheila Onyango

Staff Writer

There has been public resistance to vaccinations since they were first introduced. In the early 1800s, the first widely spread smallpox vaccination in England resulted in fear and protest. Some opposed vaccinations because they originate from animals, deeming them “ungodly.” Others were quick to denounce medicine as an entire practice. Lastly, there were the objectors who were weary of vaccinations simply because they felt that they encroached on their personal liberties. This last group grew as the government mandated more and more vaccines.

Fast forward to 2018 and anti-vaccination leagues still lead an outcry against immunizations. At the top of their current hate list is the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Their reasoning is that it is allegedly linked to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, researchers have found no correlation between the MMR vaccine and ASD, so why are anti-vaxxers still so skeptical?

One can point fingers at fraudulent and grossly mishandled case studies. The most notorious is Wakefield’s paper.  In 1998, Andrew Wakefield, a now expelled doctor, published a report which linked the measles vaccine to autism. Anti-vaxxers constantly cite Wakefield’s study as evidence, but fail to mention that before drawing overzealous conclusions, Wakefield only tested twelve children (not thousands, as studies of such implications are expected to). Curtailing his credibility even more, Wakefield conducted his study only after being approached by lawyers suing vaccine distributors. After producing a report with ASD as a conclusive link, he was paid $500,000.  

Objectors retort that it is their right to be skeptical, that they have the freedom to want to be safe and not sorry. However, how can they claim that their children are better off without vaccines when their fear of the MMR vaccine is completely unfounded? The MMR vaccine was introduced in 1963. In the United States alone, ten million doses are distributed each year. If there was a correlation between the vaccine and ASD, there would be hundreds to thousands of more cases of autism than there are now.

The anti-vaccination movement can only fall back on the idea of personal liberty, but that excuse lasts until it starts to be a threat to public safety. Ousseny Zerbo, a postdoctoral fellow at the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center, explains the concept of “herd immunity” and states, “In order to disrupt the chains of infection in a population, a large portion of the population needs to be immune to the infection,” he later stresses, “A higher vaccination rate can break those chains of infection. This is why it is important for a large proportion of the population to be vaccinated.”

That is why people need to relinquish some of their personal freedoms. Just because you have the right to not vaccinate your child, does not mean you should exercise it. In a twisted turn of events, the anti-vaccination movement impedes on other parents’ rights to immunize their kids as they see fit. After all, parents of children who are not eligible for vaccines can do nothing but hope their kids do not contract anything from those un-vaccinated. It becomes a full on public health issue when the decision of one fatally dictates the countless lives of others.

Even if, in another universe, vaccines did correlate with autism, you cannot definitively say it is better for a child to have measles instead of autism, especially considering the rate in which measles spreads and the amount of lives it takes. Globally, 100,000 people die from measles every year, most of which are under the age of five. If a person is fortunate enough to have access to a vaccination for a preventable disease, then they ought to take advantage— if not for their own sake, then for the wellbeing of those around them.