Americans love a good comeback––the '90s are all that again, Paul McCartney’s been (re)discovered––but like zombies, some things aren’t meant to return from the dead . . . like infectious diseases. Like the measles.
There's been a lot of talk about the necessity of vaccines since the recent measles outbreak that originated at Disneyland in December 2014. Despite its eradication in the U.S. in 2000, the measles are slowly re-surging, aided by a small—but militant—minority of parents against vaccines.
As this debate has been raging on, has anyone else noticed that members of the anti-vaccination movement are all . . . eerily similar?
They’re the soccer moms throwing Measles parties, the PhDs who’ve read the 100-page research paper, the wealthy with enough money in the bank to pay for any medical treatment necessary if the worst, in fact, happens.
Dr. Amy Tuteur points out the reasons anti-vaxxers are so vehemently opposed to immunization have less to do with their children’s health and more to do with their own egos.
Back in the mid-2000s, the anti-vaccination community got a spokeswoman in the form of Jenny McCarthy when she clamed vaccines caused her son’s autism (which was later cured). While it’s easy to relegate McCarthy to this strange sphere of a singular, well-intentioned, and sadly misinformed mother using her celebrity soapbox to shout the wrong information, she’s actually archetype of the “typical" anti-vaxxer; white, female, and “informed.”
First, there’s the aspect of extreme privilege. With many families living in underserved communities struggling to get their children vaccinated, traveling—often by foot—great lengths to free clinics and the appalling number of children that die from preventable diseases (more than 500,000 from measles alone in 2003) it’s puzzling to see parents with easy access to vaccinations choose not to protect their children.
Then there seems to be some innate desire to defy authority under the auspices of personal freedom; everyone from the CDC to the President has warned the public of the dangers of forgoing the shots. Anti-vaxxers, however, don’t see these statements as helpful or sound medical advice; instead it’s considered government intrusion on their lives and autonomy.
And of course, they need to feel validated as independent thinkers. Anti-vaxxers have done their homework, finding obscure experts and unsubstantiated journal articles that go against mainstream ideals. While it’s undeniably important for patients to understand their options and that alternative treatments could indeed be life saving, but their "health literacy" is, shall we say, severely underwhelming.
You might’ve heard the phrase “herd immunity” tossed around in this conversation. The term refers to the idea that once enough of a group is immunized, everyone is protected, even the unvaccinated. But when society no longer has that critical mass of vaccinated people, all hell breaks loose.
In short? When anti-vaxxers choose not immunize their children to prove a point, ostensibly go holistic, or satiate some half-baked intuition, they fuck it up for everyone else.
Although they have the resources—both financially and education-wise—to treat themselves and their children, they still put the most vulnerable at risk; the young, the old and the poor. For example, infants under 12 months are unable to get the vaccine, meaning they not only have the greatest risk of contracting the disease but possess the weakest immune system capable of fighting it off.
OK, yes, we get it. Given the innumerable number of sketchy things that the government and big pharmaceutical companies have done in past, there are plenty of reasons to be suspicious of anything they tell us we must do. And we're all for you choosing what happens to your body, However, when your decision or the decision you make on behalf of your children endangers the lives of others, then the decision should be about “when” and “how” not “if.”
I have no doubts that anti-vax parents love their children, but this is a case where love isn’t enough.
Read our interview with Corinne Tandy, an infectious disease expert, to learn more about America's arrogance and the danger of not vaccinating our children.