The recent trend of parents making the decision to not get their children vaccinated is a puzzling phenomenon that has shown the have harmful consequences. Although there is ample evidence showing that vaccines have been historically and scientifically proven to be effective, there is a small, but significant amount of parents who believe that vaccines are actually harmful in some way. So where are they getting such notions, and what are the repercussions?
Many of those opposed to getting their children vaccinated are simply believing in misinformation and myths about vaccines, such as vaccines causing autism, or that the immune system will somehow be compromised due to these vaccines. As this article by Time explains, vaccination rates need to reach a certain threshold to maintain herd immunity, and this rate is going down, causing recent polio and measles outbreaks. What is especially frustrating is that, as Time mentions, these rates are more prevalent in areas of the country where people tend to be more affluent, educated, and liberal. The refusal to vaccinate does not seem to come from a pure lack of resources or other influences, but rather the impression that these people think they know better than what is unanimously agreed upon in medical discourse.
As the LA Times duly notes, the reason why 145 people ended up getting measles (which was ironically spread initially at the Happiest Place on Earth) was because of the large number of parents who refused to get their kids vaccinated. This outbreak is an example of how important sustaining herd immunity is, and falling below the necessary vaccination rate literally puts the entire population of humans at risk.
If the scope of the manifestation of the anti-vaccination movement is not convincing enough, perhaps a more personal take could drive people away from this ridiculously disastrous fallacy. This article by NPR covers a story of a father whose 6 year old son, Rhett, fought leukemia since around age two. Although he is now in remission, he is now in danger of measles, because he cannot be vaccinated due to his recovering immune system. Therein lies the importance of herd immunity – unfortunately, the Krawitt family lives in an area that allows and has the highest rate of “personal belief exemptions,” meaning that parents can legally send their children to school without vaccinations. Carl has unsuccessfully tried to get Rhett’s school district to require immunizations for all those who are able to be medically vaccinated to decrease the high likelihood of an outbreak, which would be a lethal consequence for his son.
The Krawitts should not have to deal with this conflict. Parents can opt out of vaccinating their kids for “personal beliefs” (empirically unfounded ones) and reap the advantage from collective protection, while families like the Krawitts have to deal with the literal risk of death, which is insanely unnecessary and can be so easily avoided.
We can protect children such as Rhett by being concerned, contributing members of society and protecting our most vulnerable – by getting ourselves and our children vaccinated.