A relatively recent public health issue has quickly sparked panic in our society and worry among healthcare professionals. The issue I speak of is the refusal by parents to get their infants and young children immunized from dangerous and once suppressed diseases.
A parent’s right to decide what is best for his or her child is one that I would never wish to be taken away, but at the same time, the increase in parents not allowing their children to be immunized is a terrifying reality that may mean the reintroduction of certain debilitating, and often fatal, diseases.
The introduction of vaccines by Edward Jenner in 1796, sparked hope in a world devastated by innumerable diseases, which, at times, claimed the lives of families and whole communities. If it wasn’t polio or rubella, then it was influenza; either way, before the introduction of vaccines, diseases that we now only discuss in science courses
tremendously affected communities and societies around the world.
The Center For Disease Control and Prevention, published “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” in a 1999 article that highlighted “Ten great public health achievements,” which stated that, “Vaccines are one of the greatest achievements of biomedical science and public health.” A recent disagreement regarding this claim came to light when a British medical journal, “The Lancet,” claimed that its 1998 study found a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism. It took until this year for the journal to retract that story and the research it found. The journal noted that the research was conducted with biased and unethical procedures.
Although the journal did retract its study, the damage was already done; the mistake had given parents 12 years to make decisions regarding immunizations that could have ultimately affected the health and
safety of their children.
The problem with this continued doubt about immunizations has only remained strong because of celebrities, such as Jenny McCarthy, who have children with autism and who continuously vocalize the “facts” about immunizations to the general public through the TV and the Internet, which sadly seems to be the only research these parents have done on the subject. McCarthy was an adult film
actress — not a doctor or a medical researcher — before the birth of her child.
Parents, and society as a whole, have a hard time understanding autism as a developmental disorder because of the lack of consistent research and the lack of a cure or prevention plan. Immunizations seemed to be the perfect scapegoat for nervous parents to blame for their children’s condition on.
Various explanations regarding the confusion about immunizations and autism can quite easily be explained by coincidence. Autism develops before the age of 3; meanwhile, most of the 14 vaccines now recommended for children are administered at an early age. Another coincidence aiding in this explanation is that before this 1998 British study, autism was a condition most individuals were not aware of, and children displaying autistic symptoms were largely ignored.
With this said, just the pure media attention autism has recently received is enough for concerned parents to quickly draw inaccurate conclusions.
My goal is not to demean autism, as I understand that the condition is a stressful and painful one that affects entire families, but at the same time, the pure necessity of vaccines should not be ignored because of a single scare. If the majority of children do not get immunized in years to come, I hypothesize that the majority of diseases once controlled by vaccines will come back with a vengeance.
The introduction of vaccines has made the diseases they protect us from seem like something out of a movie because we have never experienced such illnesses. But ask your grandparents or maybe even your parents about the flu and polio epidemics they had to endure and the devastation such diseases caused. Read the history about the most common viral diseases that had tremendous effects on various populations around the world, and you will begin to understand the necessity for vaccines.
I advise everyone to do his or her research. No matter what it is about, health related or not, if you are passionate or worried about something, find legitimate research on the subject and get the facts; if you do so, confusion and possibly burdensome experiences can be avoided.
Hannah McCluskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hannah McCluskey, columnist