To the Anti-Vaccinators Marching in New York

 

Though modern medicine has all but eradicated many diseases that lay waste to communities, in years past, anti-vaccination movements still prevail, despite the lack of credible scientific evidence to back these views. Many of these “anti-vaxxer” parents claim exemptions in the name of religious freedom, believing the vaccines to be the cause of autism, and that vaccines themselves are filled with poisonous chemicals and other terrifying ingredients. Recently, the state of New York passed a law stating that all children must begin their vaccinations within the first two weeks of school, and be finished with them by the time the school year ends. If their parents do not comply, the could children face expulsion, and either need to be homeschooled or relocated to another state. Anti-vaxx parents are furious, and held protests across the state, claiming the state of New York was setting in place discriminatory policies. These parents even went so far as to compare these new policies to those of Jim Crow era, and even Nazi Germany, which is beyond insulting on multiple levels. I for one, support the state of New York for standing up in the name of public health, considering that this summer, NYC saw the worst measles outbreak in modern history. There is far more at stake here than religious freedom. 

The anti-vaccination movement sits on a bed of misinformation and false research. Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who supposedly linked vaccines to autism, and kickstarted the popularity of the anti-vaxx movement, had his medical license revoked in 2010 for falsifying documents in his “research”, looking to push an agenda rather than provide actual scientific discoveries. Still, the anti-vaxx movement is more popular than ever, with celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy regurgitating Wakefield’s rhetoric at every opportunity to ever-growing crowds. A good deal of anti-vaxxers believe that the reason there is no credible research to back up their claims is that doctors and the government are withholding information from us and look, I get it. I’m definitely not a fan of many of the practices of Big Pharma (*cough*, price inflation, *cough*), but vaccines are not an issue in this case. They have proven time and time again to benefit society rather than harm it. Another thing, even if vaccines did cause autism , I’d still want to be vaccinated. It’s a pretty ableist idea that somebody would rather have a dead or severely ill child than an autistic one. As someone on the spectrum, it is absolutely insulting that people can reason this way. 

Another issue with the anti-vaxx movement is that anti-vaxxers refuse to look at the bigger picture, and realize their choices reach far beyond their personal sphere. If you’re willing to risk your children’s health, that’s fine, nobody’s going to stop you. However, choosing not to vaccinate your children not only puts them at risk, but   the greater community as well. If everybody else is vaccinated, you may ask, then why would my kids getting sick affect anybody else? The simple answer is herd immunity. Certain groups that are more at risk for getting extremely sick (the elderly, immuno-compromised individuals, cancer patients, for example) depend on the community around them to stay relatively healthy, since they themselves either cannot get vaccinations or simply face a higher risk of complications due to a weakened immune system. When less of the community is being vaccinated, the barrier is breached, and these compromised communities face a greater danger. If you aren’t going to do it for your own kids, do it for your elderly neighbors, or your kid’s classmate whose mother is going through chemotherapy. A simple case of the flu, something that doesn’t seem that big of a deal to the rest of us, could be a matter of life or death for them. 

That being said, I’m certainly not advocating for an infringement of religious freedoms, but claiming religious freedom should only go so far. When other lives are at stake, greater action needs to be taken to ensure isolated outbreaks do not transform into a greater issue of public safety. Anti-vaxx parents need to take a step back and examine the bigger picture, and really ask themselves if this is the cross they wish to die upon. It does not matter how healthy a person thinks their kids are, they can still transmit and contract some nasty things. It’s high time the government stepped in, in order to keep us all healthy and safe.