Vaccine Refusals: Who’s Really at Risk?
As the vaccination debate heats up again amid celebrity words of wisdom and a sudden, high profile measles outbreak, the 2014 climate regarding immunization could thus far be surmised as one of great tension and renewed hostility. Despite vaccine supporters – i.e. the entire medical community (minus her) – continuing to shout themselves nearly but understandably hoarse in urging parents to vaccinate their children, measles cases have risen to well over 500 in the United States, and are only expected to increase.
While the outbreak is being attributed to unvaccinated travelers entering the country, this foreign threat is only adding to what is an already prevalent domestic one. A recently released AP/GFK Poll for example, has revealed that 15% of Americans “have doubts about the safety and efficacy of childhood vaccines” – a troubling number, given the link between vaccine refusals and preventable disease outbreaks. While this “anti-vax” movement remains an issue only growing in severity, more pressing is the diminishing “herd immunity” currently taking place in some states. Herd immunity occurs when so much of the population is vaccinated, a disease has little if any opportunity to spread. An inherently communal theory, it highlights not just the social necessity for vaccine participation, but the ethical one as well. Herd immunity exists to effectively protect as much of the population as possible, including some vaccinated individuals, but mainly of course, those who are unprotected – a group consisting mainly of children.
And this marks the origin for the ethical obligation. Study after study, including a report released yesterday by Pediatrics, has failed to discover any link between vaccines and autism, childhood leukemia, or food allergies. Despite very rare side effects, the objective conclusion of these studies remains clear: the willingness to vaccinate is the overwhelmingly safe choice in protecting against the still very real threat of infectious disease. The unfortunate fact however, is that not everyone can be vaccinated. Children too young, too sick, as well as anyone with a weak or compromised immune system, are unable to receive vaccinations afforded to the rest of the population, and have no choice but to rely on the immunization of those around them for their own protection. Consequently, parents refusing vaccinations for their children are not just risking their health, but also the health of other unvaccinated individuals who, more than likely, have immune systems already facing an uphill battle.
No medical professional is arguing that vaccines are 100% safe (or even 100% effective), but in a year marked by an outbreak of a disease once declared eliminated, the evidential and statistical data supporting vaccination as the indisputably safe option cannot be overlooked. Failure to recognize this reality is not only troubling, but is proving to be downright dangerous. With the world essentially shrinking as people become more closely connected, the significance of everyone doing their part in eliminating preventative diseases has become more important than ever. A lower vaccination rate simply results in more widespread susceptibility. It’s a risk we can’t afford to encourage, and one we shouldn’t even be facing.