Antivaxers endanger children, society

art+by+Maddy+Mueller

art by Maddy Mueller

Jenna Liu

The 2012-2013 flu season was a particularly dangerous time. The innocuousness of the flu was compromised as reports of hospitalizations and deaths flooded the news. With the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reporting that 9.9 percent of deaths in that year were caused by the flu, runny noses and noisy coughs became signs of something more malignant.
In a May 2013 CDC report, the agency revealed that 90 percent of the children who died from the flu that season were not vaccinated. Forty percent of that group did not have any medical reason to not receive the vaccine. With such damning statistics, it may seem self-explanatory that vaccines are necessary and in everyone’s best interest.
Not according to Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Last month, Paul told CNBC that parents should be able to independently decide if their child should be vaccinated, as he has heard of cases where vaccines led to “profound mental disorders.” Paul is an elected member of congress. More frightening though, is the fact that he is also a trained doctor, albeit a “self-certified” one.
The opinion Rand spouts is one that far too many parents across the country have adopted. According to an Oct. 2014 report from the CDC, a little more than five percent of kindergarten-aged children in America are not vaccinated against preventable illnesses such as measles and mumps. Only a small portion of this number are not vaccinated for medical reasons; in California, about 1,000 children had medical exemptions from vaccinations, a number that paled in comparison to the 17,253 children whose parents submitted exemptions because of “[philosophical] reasons.”
This philosophy includes the belief that vaccines are the cause of autism, which originated in a 1998 study by disgraced British researcher Andrew Wakefield that the scientific community discredited after people discovered that Wakefield manipulated evidence and had many conflicts of interest. According to the New England Medical Journal, this resulted in a sharp drop in vaccinations and a measles outbreak that caused numerous hospitalizations and deaths.
This philosophy kills.

art by Maddy Mueller
art by Maddy Mueller
Besides the poor, unvaccinated children whose parents have exposed them to deadly, but preventable, diseases such as pertussis, another group that is often overlooked is the few who simply cannot receive vaccinations because of their age or compromised immune systems. Mayo Clinic states that children should receive their first measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine between the ages of 12-15 months, which means babies under a year old are susceptible to these diseases. Similarly, those who have cancer or heart problems that cause weakened immunity cannot receive some vaccines, as it would just increase the severity of their condition.
These individuals rely on herd immunity, which decreases the chance of disease outbreak by trusting that everyone will be vaccinated.
Like a pack of animals, we are all expected to do our part in maintaining the collective safety of the group, and thus protecting the weakest among us. When people refuse vaccinations, herd immunity is compromised.
The destruction of herd immunity is not a just a mere possibility; the devastating consequences of the unvaccinated are on display across the United States at this very moment.
In 2000, the United States announced that measles had been eradicated. Now, 15 years later, the CDC has reported a measles outbreak that originated in Disneyland, spread across eight states and has infected 123 people. It is terrifying to see that those who are ignorant to medical realities were able to prove the federal government wrong.
Vaccinations are one the greatest scientific advancements of the modern century. Immunization has saved millions of lives and is one of the most cost-effective health programs that exists, according to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF).
Opponents of the vaccine are right in their avocation for free choice, but this does not extend to their children. Parents have a duty to protect their kids, and they are endangering them when they reject vaccinations. Similarly, some individuals may argue that they have the choice to give babies alcohol, but society knows this is unacceptable because of the resulting medical harms. Why isn’t vaccinating your kids treated any differently?
The U.S. government should pass a federal law that requires any individual who attends or works in a public school to receive the vaccines health professionals have deemed necessary. We may not be able to control the actions of autonomous adults who decide to not receive vaccines, but we at minimum must make an effort to protect the health and safety of American children.
There cannot be any compromise on this issue, as all compromise has brought so far are obituary photos and questions of what we could have done better.
Let us act now so we never have to ask those questions again. As teenagers, we have the unique ability to chart the course of the future. We are all potential parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. When vaccination time comes, say yes to the needle and do what is best for the child.
By Jenna Liu