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23 Feb. 2015
In the summer of 1921, 39-year-old Franklin Delano Roosevelt become fully
aware of the virus that had ravaged his nervous system in the past weeks: Polio
(Berish 1). Poliomyelitis is a vicious infection that tears away at the myelination of
nerve cells within the motor neurons of the central nervous system as well as the
gastrointestinal tract. For Roosevelt, the disease resulted in him being confined to a
wheelchair in the years to follow and the paralysis of his lower extremities.
Roosevelt served our country as a fearless leader, despite this deadly disease but no
one knew the truth about his abilities, or rather disabilities. The polio outbreaks in
the early twentieth century left thousands of people dead, disabled and others
extremely fearful of the disease. Researchers spent years and substantial amounts of
money in hopes that they would find a miracle cure to prevent this horrid,
debilitating disease. In April of 1955, Dr. Thomas Francis Jr. announced to the world
a vaccine that would prevent polio, and the world rejoiced. Americans and foreign
citizens alike no longer had to live in constant fear of contracting Polio. In the past
sixty years the vaccine has prevented nearly 120 million deaths and all but
eradicated the disease from our culture, though only one disease has been
completely eradicated by vaccine: smallpox (ScienceHeroes 1). This vaccine and
others such as the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine has saved hundreds of
thousands of lives and millions of dollars in the past half-century. However, in the
recent years American citizens following the trending anti-vaccination movement
have denied themselves and their children these vaccines.
Throughout the country numerous parents are declining to vaccinate their
children on fears of vaccines causing autism and other significant side effects.
Though copious scientific studies have proven that there is no correlation between
these concerns and the vaccinations children typically receive at an age of 24
months, millions of two-year-olds are innocently playing with blocks while sitting
vulnerable to fatal diseases. Ignorance and belief of inaccurate scientific
information has lead to the widespread anti-vaccination movement. I strongly
believe that it is only fair to the country’s children that we are properly informed of
the dangers of not vaccinating; this includes the recent disease epidemics. Evidence
should be presented to lawmakers to back a stricter vaccination law and all
information pertaining to vaccination records of children in public schools should
be presented to parents and guardians.
A large portion of the anti-vaccination movement stems from a study
published in The Lancet in 1998 by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that claimed that the
MMR vaccine (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) caused autism in children who were
administered the vaccine. A sharp decline in vaccination followed in both England
and in the United States. Further research proved this to be false and numerous
studies have debunked this common myth (Kollipara 3). Wakefield retracted his
statements from the journal and admitted his mistake, however, many people,
including celebrities with high levels of influence such as American actress Jenny
McCarthy still publicly claim that these vaccines cause autism. Though these parents
who refuse to vaccinate their child believe that they are protecting their child from
mental disability mean well, they are actually further endangering their child.
Would it be preferred by parents to have a terminally ill child in favor of a child with
autism? Another common concern of anti-vaxxers is rooted in the chemical
Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that was once found in vaccines that
some believed to cause brain damage. Thimerosal has been since phased out of
vaccines in the past twenty years as a governmental precautionary measure though
no study ever proved direct correlation (Kollipara 3). In the early 2000’s, anti-
vaccination advocates had not yet made a large impact on society, then in 2009 an
interview given by the National Immunization Survey showed that 8.2% of parents
with children age 24 to 35 months denied their child vaccines that children this age
recieve (Smith, Humiston, Marcuse, Zhao, Dorell, Howes and Hibbs 1), this new
information showed a notable increase in anti-vaccination numbers. Again, this
number has risen sharply in the past years with some single counties across the
country with individual rates of 17% or above, specifically in California. According
to Advisory.com, Colorado state has the lowest rate in the country at an astounding
only 85.7% of children being immunized with required vaccinations (1). This
number is far lower than the goal 95% herd immunity, and shows how few people
are taking the steps needed to prevent disease.
Choosing to deny your child vaccinations poses numerous threats not only to
your child’s health and well-being, but also to that of society. If a child carrying a
disease such as Rubella was in contact with a newborn, that infant would face the
possibility of a fatal outcome as they are not yet old enough to be vaccinated, nor are
their immune systems capable of defending itself yet. Many parents are choosing to
file a PBE or Personal Belief Exemption on the count of religion or simply personal
choice so they are legally allowed to send their child to public school without the
vaccinations they are typically required to have. These PBEs are fairly simple to
obtain and many parents have chosen to file a form without being fully aware of the
dangers of not vaccinating. As made evident by researchers and reporters across the
country such as Jocelyn Wiener, these children pose a threat to society, and to the
health of the country. Herd immunity, or immunity of the public to communicable
diseases can only be achieved when 95% of the population is vaccinated (Wiener 1).
Vaccination rates overall are still fairly high, but many states such as California,
Washington and Michigan are seeing vaccination rates fall drastically. A measles
outbreak that affected members of a Texas mega-church in early 2014 infected 21
people. Similarly, there were 550 reported measles cases in England and Wales last
year, compared to 33 in 2013 (Ropeik 1). By May 5th, 2014 there were thirteen
reported measles cases in the United States, the highest number researchers have
seen since 1996, this number grew to 644 by the end of the year (CDC 1).
One of the states in the country with the lowest vaccination rate is California.
In Santa Cruz, California alone, parents of thousands of children are choosing not to
vaccinate their child this year: California has one of the highest anti-vaccination
rates in the country, and has seen more outbreaks of disease in the past year than
many other states. Last year in Santa Cruz an outbreak of Pertussis, or Whooping
Cough affected 9,100 children and resulted in ten deaths of un-immunized infants
(Wiener 3). Jocelyn Wiener with the California Healthcare Foundation interviewed
Lucia Paxton, the mother of a child in Santa Cruz who came down with Pertussis.
Paxton states that she did “second guess herself about vaccines a little” and “ is
considering getting her daughter the Chickenpox vaccine, since the disease can be
dangerous for teenagers.” Paxton like many other parents of children affected by
contagious, but fully preventable diseases could not be fully swayed even after
seeing their child suffer.
Many anti-vaccination advocates have questioned why they are facing such
criticism if they are choosing to endanger themselves, what they fail to consider is
the threat they pose to the infantile, terminally ill and immunocompromised and
even the immunized. Several children in communities in which there are rates of
vaccination below the goal herd immunity of 95% have developed symptoms of
vaccine preventable disease even after being immunized because though vaccines
are immensely effective, they are not perfect. People on both sides of the argument
often ignore this fact, as it is not well known that you can still contract diseases you
are vaccinated against. I mention this fact as it is becoming a reality in places across
the United States, and indicates the large-scale effect that anti-vaxxers have on the
overall population. The large number of people choosing not to vaccinate
themselves has allowed disease to spread and to grow stronger, diseases we
thought in the previous years to be all but eliminated from society.
For many people, facts are not enough to convince them that vaccination is
the answer. However, examples of the devastating effects that not vaccinating can
have tended to be more effective. Tyler Ludlum, a ten-year-old boy from California
has fallen victim to the choice his parents, and parents of children around him made
to opt out of vaccination. Tyler contracted Meningococcal Meningitis, a disease that
results in swelling of the meninges surrounding the brain and spinal cord that is
contracted through saliva and mucus. Tyler sacrificed half of each of his legs, and all
his fingers on his right hand at the decision of his parents. The Meningitis vaccine is
85% effective at preventing contraction of the disease and is widely administered
and required for most children to enter public schools without a PBE (Nixon 1). The
vaccine is most frequently given to college age students; however, it is a good idea
for children to receive it as soon as they are of age. Tyler is lucky that he did not
suffer brain damage, or death. It is a sad sort of irony that Tyler’s parents avoided
vaccine on fears of a mental disability showing itself, and their child contracted a
disease that targets the brain most viciously. Tyler’s mother Shara now believes that
she should have vaccinated her child and has joined a coalition for vaccination
awareness. Shara hopes that Tyler’s story and the lesson she learned will help
parents to make more informed decisions and to decide to vaccinate their children
(Nixon 1). I agree with Shara and hope that examples such as Tyler can convince
parents that refusing vaccination is incredibly dangerous.
There are numerous examples of ethical reasoning to support vaccinating
your child. The direct correlation between the drop in vaccination rates in states
such as California and Michigan and the increase in disease outbreaks of Measles,
Pertussis and Meningitis serve to show that vaccines do help to eradicate disease
and save children’s lives. It’s baffling to see how the numbers continue to fall even
with disease becoming more and more prevalent since the movement began, and
with the fatal effects being public knowledge. In an article written by The
Washington Post regular contributor Puneet Kollipara, an environmental and public
policy researcher, it is noted that per one dollar of cost to vaccinate a child that the
community is benefited ten dollars worth (4). As I see it, this fact alone is a valid
reason for the push to vaccinate. In a article published by Contemporary Pediatrics
by David Ropeik outlining the decrease in vaccination rates it is identified that in the
US, routine scheduled immunizations save approximately 42,000 lives and prevent
twenty million cases of preventable disease whilst saving nearly fourteen billion in
direct medical costs and 69 billion in societal costs annually (1). The rise of the anti-
vaccination movement is costing the nation money, as well as juvenile lives. The
numbers have it. Vaccines have time and time again has been proven to be the
answer for a healthy life and country. Annually vaccines save six to nine million lives
worldwide with three million of them being the lives of children. The anti-vaxxers
are causing a decrease in this number. Though the number decreases slowly, the
diseases they are exposing the public to are spreading extremely rapidly. One child
can expose several hundred people, as shown with a case in California of a boy who
traveled abroad and returned carrying the Measles-causing Rubella virus and
transmitted the disease to eight hundred people resulting in eleven cases of people
contracting the Measles (Garrey 1). Many cases of measles in the US have been
spread after travel, particularly to foreign countries and large-scale public areas.
There is strong evidence to support the encouragement of immunizing your
child, and many states are making it harder to deny your child or send them to
school without the vaccines. States such as Michigan are considered a medium level
state, requiring a physician signature on a PBE and states such as Florida are
considered hard level states requiring a physician signed PBE as well as a letter of
reason that will be reviewed by a board of officials. To decrease the spread of
disease and to limit the number of children going without immunizations it is
imperative that parents are informed with all the facts and that they do the proper
research. They should be informed of the examples of cases of outbreaks in largely
unvaccinated areas as well as the damage that their child could possibly do to those
around them. There should be stricter regulations imposed on parents, and children
should not be allowed to attend public school regardless of a PBE without proper
immunization by law, as they pose significant threat to children around them, who
have no choice in the matter. It is neither fair nor right to leave a defenseless child’s
immune system susceptible to fatal disease and to leave the possibility of infection
up to chance. Many parents claim religious exemption when it is not truly the case.
Exploitation of religion is disgraceful and only those with true religious or health
limitations should be able to deny their child immunizations, though they should
still not be allowed to expose other children in daycares or school. The government
and our basic American rights may limit the ability for schools to deny unvaccinated
children, and in that case if a law did not pass, it should be at the very least made
public to other parents in the school that there are children who have not been
immunized in attendance.
Immunizations speak for themselves in the countless numbers of lives they
save annually and the pain and cost they prevent. If we do not learn from history, we
are doomed to repeat its mistakes. It is important for parents of children debating
vaccination to take into consideration these facts and the countless stories of the
danger of choosing not to immunize. We should learn from the disease epidemics of
the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century and the countless lives lost
and choose immunization. It is hard to comprehend the thought process behind
denying children immunity to a disease that so famously killed thousands and
confined a fearless leader such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt to a wheelchair for
forty years of his life. Act now, protect your child and choose vaccination.
Berish, Amy. "Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum." Franklin D.
Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2015.
Garrey, Sascha. "Opting-Out Of Vaccines; Dipping Below Herd Immunity."
CommonHealth RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Feb. 2015.
Kollipara, Puneet. "How the Anti-vaccine Movement Is Endangering Lives."
Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 3 Feb. 2015.
Lea, Andrew. "Vaccination Education: Increasing Vaccination Rates through
Accurate Information and Primary Care." Harvard College Global Health
"Measles Cases and Outbreaks." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, 09 Feb. 2015. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.Review.
Harvard College Global Health Review, n.d. Web. 3 Feb. 2015.
Nixon, Robin. "Vaccination Rates Drop, Putting More Kids at Risk."
Msnbc.com. N.p., 21 Nov. 2010. Web. 3 Feb. 2015.
"Refusing Protection: The Decline of Childhood Vaccination in the U.S." Online
Masters In Public Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Feb. 2015.
Smith, Philip J., Sharon G. Humiston, Edgar K. Marcuse, Zhen Zhao, Christina G.
Dorell, Cynthia Howes, and Beth Hibbs. "Parental Delay or Refusal of Vaccine
Doses, Childhood Vaccination Coverage at 24 Months of Age, and the Health
Belief Model." Public Health Reports. Association of Schools of Public Health,
n.d. Web. 3 Feb. 2015.
"The Risks of Postponing or Avoiding Vaccinations." KidsHealth Ed. Joseph. The
Nemours Foundation, 1Dec. 2011. Web. 2 Feb. 2015.
"Who Saved the Most Lives in History." ScienceHeroes. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2015.
Wiener, Jocelyn. "As Vaccinations Decline, Threat of Outbreaks Grows." Center for
Health Reporting N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Feb. 2015.