Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Measles Outbreak and Vaccinations: My Child is at Risk because of Someone Else's Choice

I know everyone is having their say about this Measles outbreak…so due to the fact that I have a child too young to receive her vaccine, I wanted to add my thoughts to the debate.

According to the CDC, “Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It spreads through the air through coughing and sneezing. Measles starts with a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, and sore throat, and is followed by a rash that spreads all over the body. About three out of ten people who get measles will develop one or more complications including pneumonia, ear infections, or diarrhea. Complications are more common in adults and young children.  Measles can be serious, especially for children younger than 5 years old.  It can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), and death” (http://www.cdc.gov/measles/).

Measles was considered eliminated in the United States in 2000.   This means that the disease had no transmission for 12 months in the United States.  Therefore, even if someone came to Disneyland from another country who was not vaccinated, it shouldn’t have affected our country like it is currently.  The anti-vaccination movement that has taken hold in the US has adversely affected us.  The ones that are the victims of this though, are the ones with no choice - those too young to be vaccinated and those with immune deficiencies.

These people that are either too young for vaccination (like my 4 month old daughter who cannot receive her MMR vaccine until she is 12 months old) and those with immune deficiencies (either a specific immune disorder or due to receiving chemotherapy), have to rely on what is called “herd immunity”.  This means that a majority of the population is immunized against contagious diseases, leaving little opportunity for an outbreak.  Therefore, infants, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals have a level of protection even though they can’t be immunized, because the spread of the disease is essentially contained.  If you’re still having trouble wrapping your head around the concept of herd immunity, here is a picture from the CDC depicting scenarios of when almost none of the population is vaccinated and when most of the population is vaccinated.

So why have so many people become “anti-vaxxers”?  I’m going to talk about the reasons I’ve discovered and why or how we should help educate the population that vaccinations work.

First, many people have a fear of their child getting autism due to an article that was published in 1998, stating a link between vaccines and autism.  However, just doing a google search about this, you will find all sorts of information showing that the article was retracted and proven fraudulent in February of 2010 (12 years later).  Here are the reasons that this article was proven as fraudulent: 1) Facts were altered regarding the patients’ medical histories, 2) data was picked and chosen which supported their case, 3) scientific misrepresentation because it stated sampling was consecutive when it was actually selective, and 4) Wakefield was financially supported by lawyers who were pursuing lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers.  See full information here.  Therefore, this link to autism was an elaborate fraud that has had a huge detrimental effect on our country.  Fear broke out in parents and for 12 years parents were not having their children vaccinated.  Now what we have is a large portion of our population un-vaccinated against these contagious diseases (for disproved reasons), which means these eliminated and eradicated diseases will now be making a strong comeback in the United States. We’re taking 3 huge steps backward.

Speaking of fear leads in to my second reason for the anti-vaccination movement.  In the United States we are very privileged. If you step foot outside of our country, you will see this in many aspects.  The United States population has become so complacent in their views of vaccination because these diseases have been eradicated or eliminated (in the US). They haven’t seen what Measles, Polio, Tuberculosis, etc look like.  They haven’t seen how people can die from them.  Meanwhile, mothers in Africa will walk miles and stand in line in the heat for hours to receive a vaccination against any disease.  This is because they can see these diseases and what they do every day. We are fortunate in the United States to have been given immunity to these diseases so we don’t have the constant worry about catching a deadly contagious disease.  So what does that mean? That means the people now worry about silly things like “Oh my gosh, my child might get autism according to a fraudulent article, so I’m not going to give them immunity against a deadly disease”.  Fear is what drives most people. I wish I had the numbers for the amount of un-vaccinated people who went out and got their vaccinations when the Measles outbreak occurred.  
Even if you use common sense and just look at the facts: 1) Almost all people were vaccinated in the 70s and 80s and most of these diseases were eliminated or eradicated in the 90s and 2000s. 2) Now that people aren't getting vaccinated, these diseases are coming back. Even common sense tells you the common denominator is VACCINATION! It works.

Finally, the most obnoxious reason I've heard is that it is their “choice”.  This enrages me because a) you’re making a decision for someone else (your child, not yourself) and b) the rest of the population is affected by THEIR decision.  My child, who at 4 months old, is too young to receive her vaccine against Measles. So now, for the next 8 months, I have to worry about taking her to populated areas for fear that she will catch the Measles. And do you know why she’s too young to get the vaccine? Because it’s dangerous being so young and the complications (pneumonia, encephalitis, etc) can be very severe in a child that young. This is the very reason that we have herd immunity. But our herd is small now. And some else made the decision not to vaccinate their child, and that child will walk around with Measles for 4 days expose MY child and others unable to receive their vaccine.  That is not fair. MY choice is for my child to not contract these diseases and have her vaccinated – so doesn't my choice count too?  As another argument I heard so eloquently stated: “You can drink in your own house and that is your choice – but when you get in a car, you are now putting others at risk…and that is NOT your choice.”  That is why you can be ticketed and put in jail for DUI or sued for manslaughter if you kill someone while driving under the influence.  The same is true for vaccinations. When you choose not to vaccinate, you are also putting the population that does not have the ability to vaccinate at risk.  You should be held personally responsible if my child contracts a preventable disease because you chose not to vaccinate – especially if there are serious adverse effects from the disease – such as pneumonia or death.  Another comparison is with peanut butter at schools. My child won’t be able to bring peanut butter to school for fear of exposing a child with a peanut allergy to it. So what is any different about an un-vaccinated child coming to school and exposing my children to a PREVENTABLE disease?!

Schools used to require that children are up to date on their vaccinations prior to attending.  However, over the years, most states allow exceptions to these rules for either medical reasons or personal and religious reasons.  I’ve researched and found that there are only 2 states (Mississippi and West Virginia) in which the only exceptions are for medical reasons (immune deficiencies). Arizona, where I live, allows all the exceptions, and according to CNN, nearly 5% of school aged children in Arizona were able to skip vaccinations last school year due to any of those exceptions.  I feel that public schools should require all vaccinations, except in cases of medical reasons (and those should be specifically stated and have to be proven).  If parents want to object due to personal or religious beliefs, then they can go to a private school. But if their children are receiving a free education supported by the public, then they need to do their part in supporting the public health and receive their vaccinations.

I’ve ranted about this for a while, but I hope that it has given information and arguments that will support vaccination.  Perhaps we should fund trips to Africa for parents who have “personal belief” objections to vaccination so that they can see these populations where Polio and Measles run rampant.  They need a good reality check.  We also need to change the rules in schools.  For now, I’m going to be fearful of public places for 8 months while my child cannot get her vaccine, all because some other parents made the “choice” for her child not to vaccinate.  That parent made the choice for ME and MY CHILD as well, and that’s just unacceptable.


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