The Anti-Vaccination Movement: Spreading Misconceptions,Fueling Epidemics,Circulating Misinformation

May 26, 2017

“Outdated” diseases, such as measles, have affected over 900 people in the past three years in the United States. “Informed” celebrities, such as Dr. Oz, have spread misconceptions about autism in relation to vaccination. One thing’s for certain: “dangerous,” “unchecked,” and “useless” vaccinations are the reasons for the end of polio, measles, smallpox, and pertussis epidemics. At the close of the 18th century, Edward Jenner invented the first vaccine by injecting cowpox-infected bodily fluid into a boy that was infected with the disease. Ever since then, deadly diseases had preventions as soon as ethical, acceptable, and safe vaccines hit the market. For decades and even centuries, people felt privileged to have access to this medical innovation that saved millions of lives internationally. Lately, however, preventable diseases unheard of in decades have resurfaced as a result of the anti-vaccination movement. This movement resulted from citizens of first world countries taking this privilege for granted by believing that diseases such as measles were completely eradicated. Misconceptions about inoculation blew completely out of proportion, ranging from unscientific links with autism to fraudulent anecdotes and studies. Consequently, medical doctors such as Paul Offit have dedicated their lives to eliminating the negative stigma that frequently surrounds immunization. The anti-vaccination movement, fueling misconceptions and catastrophically harming children, threatens the well-being of society. Vaccinations must be reinstated as one of the most valuable and vital modern-day developments of mankind to prevent further denouncement and devaluation incited by skeptics.

On February 28, 1998, an article was published in The Lancet titled, “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children”Wakefield). The doctor behind the article, Andrew Wakefield, was undoubtedly the man that sparked the autistic side of the anti-vaccine movement. Wakefield was the first to ever publish a study that showed a correlation between autism and vaccination. This experiment was completely disproved and even retracted by the Lancet, but its impact in terms of the anti-vaccine movement was incredibly devastating. The doctor’s data was found fraudulent and falsified, and he was ultimately stripped of his medical license. Scientists, doctors, and medical professionals rejoiced; they thought an era of misconception regarding vaccination was ending rather than beginning.

Despite these findings and former Dr. Wakefield’s complete lack of credibility, popular anti-vaccine figures such as Jenny McCarthy found inspiration in these findings. McCarthy, mother of an autistic son, has been using her child’s diagnosis as a means to win public attention in the anti-vaccination movement. She claims that inoculating her child led to his autism. McCarthy soon became one of the biggest anti-vaccination advocates in the United States, without any feasible evidence behind her autism-vaccine link. This link is a logical fallacy, where a correlation between vaccination and autism is assumed only because both are present in a child. In fact, McCarthy’s son may have autism for another reason--McCarthy’s behaviors and addictions before pregnancy. Maternal drug abuse is directly correlated with autism in babies, which Jenny McCarthy was all too proud to advertise before and during her misconception-propelled anti-vaccination campaign started. For instance, McCarthy referred to herself as a “recovering Catholic,” after trying everything from ecstasy to prescription pills and ultimately getting hooked on Vicodin. These drugs definitely had a negative influence on McCarthy’s son as a growing fetus (Marcus). Although it cannot be stated for certain that her addictions led to his autism, that argument is much more plausible than the one accusing vaccinations. The AAP, or American Academy of Pediatrics, published in a comprehensive vaccine-autism research paper, “Studies do not show any link between autism and MMR vaccine, thimerosal, multiple vaccines given at once, fevers or seizures” (“Vaccines”). Autism Speaks, a charity revolving around improving the quality of life for children and adults diagnosed with autism, claimed, “Each family has a unique experience with an autism diagnosis, and for some it corresponds with the timing of their child’s vaccinations. The results of...research is clear: Vaccines do not cause autism” (“What Causes Autism?”). Evidently, credible sources have denounced the autism-vaccine link as non-existent; even though children are diagnosed with autism around the same time as they are initially inoculated, the two aren’t correlated.

There are undoubtedly side effects to immunization, but they don’t compare to the catastrophic consequences of contracting a deadly virus. Approximately 1 in 3 people report headaches following vaccination, and 1 in 100 even complain of a high fever as a side effect. On the other hand, diseases that vaccines prevent, such as measles, have incredibly worse and usually fatal consequences. A measles contraction starts with a rash that slowly spreads through the entire body. As the rash progresses, the infected have extremely high fevers. Their immune system weakens and they become more susceptible to other deadly infections. In the early 2000s, only about 37 people in the United States died from measles annually. Recently, due to the anti-vaccine there have been almost 650 cases in a year (“Measles”). Minimal side effects of vaccination cannot begin to compare to the devastating consequences of contracting fatal diseases.

Paul Offit, in his book Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, asserts that movements against vaccination are misinformed and consequently dangerous to the well-being of society. Offit, a medical doctor, intelligently refutes every possible argument made against vaccination, provides a variety of anecdotes, and supports every claim he makes with plenty of scientific evidence. He eliminates all arguments against vaccination in order to t stop parents from being misinformed when choosing whether or not to vaccinate, as well as to discourage the further spread of anti-vaccine propaganda on media platforms. Offit attempts to persuade the public to make informed decisions with their children by warning them about the tragic consequences if they don’t. Throughout his book, Offit presents scientists that have made strides towards accurately informing the public about inoculation. Samuel Berkovic, a neurologist, realized the existence of a link between Dravet’s Syndrome and epilepsy following vaccinations. This discovery undermined every media figure, such as Lea Thompson, who claimed that vaccinations caused seizures. Berkovic, however, didn’t get the recognition he deserved for this brilliant medical link in 2006. The neurologists and other informed doctors that worked with him recognized his work as something remarkable, but the people circulating anti-vaccination propaganda continued their fight despite it all. Rorke-Adams, another scientist mentioned by Offit in his research, examined over thirty children whose parents claimed had seizures after vaccinations; every single child she examined ended up having a different reason behind the epilepsy, ranging from vascular disorders to degenerative diseases. As Offit stated, “...despite her expertise, and despite the fact that she has supported her evaluations with cogent, well-researched opinions, Rorke-Adams often finds that petitioners prevail” (Offit 90).

Different types of vaccines are administered depending on the age and maturity level of the child. As a result, herd immunity plays an incredibly important role before the child can receive the shot. Herd immunity, also known as community immunity, occurs when enough people in a group are vaccinated so that the few that aren’t will also be protected. However, as the amount of people not vaccinating grows tremendously, herd immunity decreases at the same rate. Physicians Phoebe Day Danzinger and Rebekah Diamond propose an extreme solution: don’t give the anti-vaxxers a choice. The two doctors wrote, “Neither of us imagined we would devote so much of our time to working with parents who oppose what is arguably the very greatest invention of modern medicine” (Danzinger and Diamond). Furthermore, they assert why there should be no inoculation exemptions, regardless of personal preference or values. The truth is that these diseases put everyone at risk, since immunity is only a valid concept when enough people are immunized. This proposition is one possible solution to the threat of losing community immunity all over the United States.

Some propose a different solution: inform parents before their children are born to give them a better chance of making informed decisions in terms of immunization. Matthew Daley and Jason Glanz, in their Scientific American article “Straight Talk about Vaccination,” consider a variety of ways to inform parents about the importance of vaccination. This includes encouraging a prenatal class or providing a forum for parents to discuss the issue amongst themselves. The most feasible proposal, however, is figuring out a better way for doctors to schedule visits to fully provide parents with information about vaccination. Daley and Glanz also suggest scheduling separate visits for standard prenatal checkups and vaccine information sessions. This would allow doctors to take more time carefully explaining why inoculation shouldn’t be taken lightly. They also acknowledge that often times, misinformation isn’t the parents’ fault, but the media and influences they’ve been surrounded with. Therefore, it is the responsibility of medical professionals to help stop the spread of misconceptions.

1796 was one of the most important years in medical history when the first vaccine came into existence. Its existence for the past couple of centuries has shifted public opinion of it for the worse. A negative stigma now surrounds the word vaccination, as if it’s something dangerous and fatal, rather than the diseases it prevents. Plenty of doctors, including Paul Offit, Rorke-Adams, Day Danzinger, and Rebekah Diamond have heavily advocated for inoculation as a means to keep epidemics from happening. Professionals outweigh the credibility of the likes of Jenny McCarthy and Dr. Oz, who have been serious promoters of the anti-vaccine movement. Vaccination is and continues to be essential in everyday life, from protecting herd immunity to ensuring the safety of children from resurfacing fatal diseases and infections. Overall, the anti-vaccination movement is one sparked by misconceptions and misinformation that must be stopped to keep children healthy and the world epidemic-free.

Works Cited
Daley, Matthew F., and Jason M. Glanz. "Straight Talk about Vaccination." Scientific American. 11 Aug. 2011. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.
Danziger, Phoebe Day, and Rebekah Diamond. "We Can’t Convince Anti-Vaxxers of Science. We Need to Mandate Vaccination."Slate Magazine. 25 July 2016. Web. 29 Mar. 2017.
Marcus, Stephanie. "Jenny McCarthy Ecstasy: Actress Tried To Have Sex With A Tree While On Ecstasy." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost, 09 Nov. 2012. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.
"Measles." KidsHealth. Ed. Scott A. Barron. The Nemours Foundation, Feb. 2015. Web. 29 Mar. 2017.
"Measles Cases and Outbreaks." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 06 Mar. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
Offit, Paul A. Deadly Choices: How the Anti-vaccine Movement Threatens Us All. New York: Basic , a Member of the Persecus Book Group, 2015. Print.
"Possible Side-effects from Vaccines." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 02 Dec. 2016. Web. 29 Mar. 2017.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Vaccines" Vaccines. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 11 Oct. 2006. Web. 29 Mar. 2017.
"Vaccines Cause Seizures?: Samuel Berkovic, An Unsung Hero." Parenting Patch. 02 Dec. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2017.
Wakefield, Andrew. "Ileal-lymphoid-nodular Hyperplasia, Non-specific Colitis, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder in Children." The Lancet. Elsevier Limited, 28 Feb. 1998. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
"What Causes Autism?" Autism Speaks. 24 July 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2017.

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