The Anti-Vax Populi


Photos Courtesy of Getty Images || Photo Illustration by Stacey Rojas

In 2000, measles was declared eradicated in the United States. The elimination of measles in the United States was thanks to the development of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. It caused complications ranging from hearing loss and brain damage, to death. In recent years, outbreaks of the virus have popped up across the nation. Research has shown that one group likely to blame for this rise. Anti-vaxxers.

     People opposed to vaccinations have existed as long as vaccinations themselves. They’ve cited various reasons, such as religious and sanitary concerns. All leading to the conclusion that they don’t understand the process and importance of immunization. In spite of this, viruses such as polio and smallpox were completely eradicated in the United States after the introduction of vaccines.

     The anti-vaccination movement gained traction in the 90s when Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a paper in The Lancet, a medical journal, claiming a correlation between the MMR vaccine and autism. Vaccination rates dropped following the publication, parents feared autism more than they feared measles. Numerous studies were done, none found a link between the two. The paper was later retracted from The Lancet and Wakefield lost his license. But by that point, the damage had been done.

     Anti-vaxxer ideology has squirmed its way into mainstream culture. People who wouldn’t typically align themselves with the anti-vaccination movement have picked up some of the same concerns. The idea of delayed vaccinations has gained attention of many parents across the nation.

     In response to the decline in vaccination rates, Dr. Robert Sears released The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child. The book contained an alternative vaccination schedule from the one recommended by the CDC and various other pediatric institutions. Throughout the book, Sears reinforces many of the myths surrounding vaccines, and assures parents that delaying and skipping vaccines is perfectly safe and rational.

     This ideology has spread among celebrities and even the Oval Office. Donald Trump echoed these baseless concerns during a rally while on the campaign trail.

     “I want smaller doses over a longer period of time because … you take this little beautiful baby and you pump — I mean it looks just like it’s meant for a horse, not for a child.” said Trump.

     Doctors across the country — save for the ones like Sears — unanimously agree that delaying vaccines benefits no one. In many cases, it actually increases the risk of getting a disease because it leaves children vulnerable for much longer. Knowing what the best decision to make for your child is tough, especially as a new parent. Programs like Sears’s use that uncertainty and fear in their favor in order to maximize profits, with little to no regard for the real danger it is posing.

     The fear mongering and skepticism regarding vaccines threatens the lives of those who have genuine reasons for staying unvaccinated. These people rely on their communities to stay vaccinated in order to stay safe from any diseases or viruses.

     Herd immunity is the indirect protection that is received when a large percentage of the community is immune to a disease. People who cannot receive vaccinations such as those with compromised immune systems benefit greatly from herd immunity. Even anti-vaxxers benefit from this, and it’s one of the only reasons they are able to preach their flawed rhetoric. However, when the percentage of immunized people drops in a community, it leaves people susceptible to developing serious and life threatening diseases.

     It’s simple to ignore an issue when it doesn’t appear to manifest itself openly in a community like Mehlville. Nurses Kathy Eisele and Jaymee Kientzel know this issue all too well. Under Missouri law, students must present proof that they are up-to-date on their vaccines before being able to attend school. The same law grants exceptions for religious and medical reasons. “The requirement for seniors, the meningococcal [vaccine] to protect against meningitis, the parents for whatever reason can’t or won’t have their child get that. They sign that religious exempt form. No one else has to sign it other than a parent and they don’t get it.” said Kientzel.

     The nurses are required to report the exemptions to the head nurse and the state. When they first started working here, the two had over forty pages worth of kids who didn’t have the correct vaccinations.

     When it comes to vaccinations, there’s no excuses for leaving healthy kids vulnerable. Unvaccinated children endanger other people in the community. The devastating effects of these diseases cannot and should not be forgotten so quickly.