As a child, I had my first shot for tetanus and mumps when I was 3 years old. I now have to get vaccines for measles, whooping cough, rubella and hepatitis C.
My community is not playing along with me anymore. A group of parents has taken to a website called “Protect Maine” to organize a campaign to rid their state of what they call “unscientific and dangerous” vaccines, according to the Associated Press. Their campaign, which wants to repeal the state’s law that allows a parent to opt out of the shots based on an ethical or philosophical objection, has attracted more than 1,000 supporters, it says.
The website is not as technical as an Ann Coulter rant, but it illustrates just how much work has to be done to convince people that vaccines can save lives. The site explains that people don’t want to be “shoty.” It says that many people want vaccines but don’t want to be vaccinated.
Children in the United States cannot be exempted from school immunization requirements based on religious or medical objections, according to CNN. The law was put in place in 1978 to address the illnesses that had almost caused a national public health crisis, several outbreaks of measles were reported and cases of pertussis (whooping cough) more than doubled in the U.S. between 1998 and 2000.
At that time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encouraged states to allow “philosophical objectors” to opt out. Maine was the first state to join in, and with it came a “whooping cough miracle,” as columnist Cheryl Lauten reports for the Maine Sunday Telegram. Maine now has the lowest rate of whooping cough in the nation, according to Lauten.
The main issue at stake in this new campaign isn’t necessarily our population’s innocence (though that’s also a reasonable concern). Rather, it’s, as one mother said in a draft of a petition she provided to the Associated Press, parents’ perceived “duty to educate their children and to the general public about the merits of vaccination.”
And while these ideas aren’t completely unfounded, they are, unfortunately, an oversimplification.
According to NPR, for every one person who has a healthy shot, there are 10 other people who get sick from that disease. One case is enough for any single nation to turn its back on vaccines. A misguided vaccine campaign risks passing along some of those diseases to someone else, which will end up changing the whole story.
Just look at what happened in California when the state suspended requests for booster shots for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine because three students there were unvaccinated. Although the affected students had not been involved in any outbreaks, their cases led to a dip in the number of children vaccinated in the state. Since last year, 22 measles outbreaks have been reported in the United States, and that year, an estimated 10 million Americans missed out on life-saving immunizations because of the California case, NPR reports.
“What happens in a multi-state outbreak, something is going to happen in a new area, and suddenly the ultimate decider is going to have been sitting right there with my child and now my child is in danger,” Diana Vuorte, executive director of The Immunization Action Coalition, told NPR.
The adult vaccination rate in the United States is 99.4%, according to the CDC. A vaccine refusal campaign can, unfortunately, have a disproportionate effect on adults.
So, people who think that measles is so rare that it doesn’t actually need to be treated is going to have to reconsider that position. The CDC and the World Health Organization report there are an estimated 500,000 people a year who get measles worldwide, which is almost as many as die of it each year.
“Should my child get this vaccine?” is what all of us on this planet want to know, “and whether or not all other healthy kids, including everyone else in your community, have the right to be protected, too?”