Anti-Vaxxers—Where Counterculture Hipsters and Donald Trump Meet

Before the measles vaccine was introduced to the world over 50 years ago, 9 of every 10 kids would contract the disease before age 15, and 2 million people would parish from the sickness each year. As a part of the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, the vaccine is one of the most effective and safe medicines in existence. The 95% effective vaccine lowered measles deaths by 75% between 2000 and 2013. So why, in 2019, in a developed country like the United States where measles was eliminated in the year 2000, are stories of measles outbreaks surfacing?

The governor of Washington state declared a state of emergency this January due to an astounding 34 cases of measles in Clark County, which borders Portland, Oregon. The disease is so contagious that a single cough from an infected person can live in the air for up to two hours, even after the diseased person has left, and infect anyone nearby who breathes the air, so officials are calling the situation a “public health emergency.”

While all 50 states require vaccines for students, most allow parents to opt out due to religious beliefs, and 18 due to moral beliefs. Washington and Oregon are very lenient when it comes to requiring parents to vaccinate their children. In Clark County, almost 8% of kindergarteners were excused from vaccinations entering the 2017-2018 school year, while the national average of unvaccinated children due to nonmedical reasons hovers at 2%. Why are we putting lives in jeopardy for something completely preventable? Somewhere along the way, vaccinations transformed from hailed as one of the top ten accomplishments of public health in the 20th century to the enemy.

Source: Washington Examiner

Looking for the answers to what sparked this movement is difficult. There’s no clear leader, and while anti-vaxxers have always existed throughout history, such a movement like this is unheard of in recent times. In general, a rise in mistrust of Western medicine and the motivations of modern drug companies lead many parents to believe that the vaccines recommended by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are just a ploy for money. Natural mom bloggers claim the drugs don’t work and relate to the rise in autism, stating that the CDC has lied about its studies. Even more surprisingly, though, several pediatricians around the country urge parents to forego or delay vaccinations for their children to prevent autism and other negative side effects. Our very own president has tweeted on over 20 different occasions about the link between vaccines and autism as his government’s leading public health institute and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network both shake their heads in disapproval.

The debate has created a media firestorm as anti-vaxxers loudly demand institutional change and everyone else wonders how much hard evidence is needed to change their minds. As comical as the issue can be portrayed online, this is a serious public health issue that deserves immediate action.

The fact of the matter is that, as a parent, you are free to make many decisions for your child. To feed them organic food or not, to teach them religion or not, to enroll them in public school or not—the list goes on. However, when a decision affects other parents’ children, that is when you no longer have the autonomy to choose your own selfish ways. For the children who cannot be vaccinated for legitimate medical conditions (such as cystic fibrosis), one parent’s decision to not vaccinate their child could be a completely preventable and irresponsible death sentence for another defenseless victim.

Just like the Keto diet, or running barefoot, or “intuitive eating,” or yoga, if you asked me, I’d say this is another trend that someone whipped up, unaware of how it would catch fire. However, unlike these trends, this one has real-life, dire consequences for everyone. Counterculture hipsters can profess their love for strictly organic, grass-fed food and turmeric instead of Advil and Waldorf schools where children learn in flower pastures as freely as their hearts desire, but to put innocent bystanders’ lives in jeopardy is a different story.