Vaccinations should be required

Vaccinations should be required

In the past two years, the U.S. has experienced a scary resurgence of an affliction that most assumed had been suppressed decades ago.

Nope, it’s not just 1950s-era racism and xenophobia: cases of measles reached an unprecedented high of 667 in 2014, even though the disease was eradicated in the U.S. in 2000. A growing number of American parents are disregarding this tremendous public health success by refusing to inoculate their children.

Some parents justify their hesitation to vaccinate their children with concerns about a possible link between vaccines and autism. However, there is simply no scientific relationship between the two.

A British study conducted by Dr. Andrew Wakefield in 1998 is the only of its kind to have found a positive connection, and it has since been retracted. Investigations revealed that the study was an “elaborate fraud” that has greatly endangered public health and that Dr. Wakefield altered the medical histories of all 12 subjects in the study. Americans base other critically important medical decisions upon real science rather than “elaborate frauds,” and vaccination should be no different.

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We are fortunate to live in a country in which we are free to make our own decisions with limited intervention from the government, but we are not entitled to make decisions that carry great risks for others.

People who have prohibitive medical circumstances, such as chemotherapy treatments, have weakened immune systems and cannot receive vaccines. They rely on “herd immunity” from others to protect themselves against communicable diseases — diseases that would be much more serious to them in their weakened condition.

Thus, unvaccinated individuals place not only themselves, but also others, including not-yet-vaccinated infants, in grave danger.

Some parents do not prioritize vaccinating their children because they do not fear diseases such as polio and measles. However, vaccines are the reasons why Americans today have that precise privilege. Forthcoming generations may not fully appreciate the importance of vaccination, because they did not experience the hysteria that gripped the country during the polio epidemic of the early and mid-20th century. My own grandparents experienced this anxiety when my grandmother and her young son — my uncle — were diagnosed with polio, which thankfully turned out to be mild cases. My grandfather had even purchased polio insurance because of the genuine risk.

Perceived safety and isolation from such diseases should not allow us to become complacent; vaccination efforts must continue to be vigorously pursued to prevent dangerous diseases from making a resurgence.

Vaccines have also allowed life expectancy and quality of life in the U.S. to skyrocket now that the threats of diseases such as hepatitis, diphtheria and whooping cough have been dramatically reduced. Countries in which vaccination is rare are not so lucky; the constant presence of communicable disease is a factor that further impedes developing countries from advancing.

Those who are in a position to influence young parents, from the White House to the pediatrician’s office, must promote real science rather than dangerous hearsay.

It is disheartening that President-elect Donald Trump stated at a GOP primary debate that “we had so many instances, people that work for me, just the other day, two years old, a beautiful child, went to have the vaccine and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.”

If the government does not uphold its responsibility to equip the population to make informed decisions, then it will be incumbent upon medical professionals and savvy parents to educate the public. 

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