The anti-vaccine movement had me in its grips after the early birth of my first child In 2008. My son's lungs were not fully developed, and he needed the NICU. My husband and I had signed up for a "natural" childbirth class where epidurals were evil and rupture of membranes did not mean go to the hospital. We were also told to forgo the hepatitis B vaccine for our newborns because "babies don't have sex or do illicit drugs by injection." I am a hospital pharmacist and was falling for it all.
Jenny McCarthy and Dr. Andrew Wakefield were regularly in the news for the connection between vaccines and autism, and I was fearful for my son. After all, Dr Wakefield was a physician with a research paper in support of the connection between vaccines and autism. Also it was a little bit popular to be anti-vax.
Herd immunity is a form of immunity that results when the vaccination of a significant portion of the population provides a measure of protection for those who have not developed immunity. Herd immunity disrupts normal transmission of diseases covered by vaccination. The anti-vax movement directly compromises this immunity resulting in less people becoming vaccinated and increases in diseases that were virtually eradicated.
Measles is on the rise. Dr. Mark Grabowsky, a health official with the United Nations, wrote last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association-Pediatrics. “Many measles outbreaks can be traced to people refusing to be vaccinated; a recent large measles outbreak was attributable to a church advocating the refusal of measles vaccination.” Measles was once considered eradicated. For every 1,000 children who get the measles, one or two will die from it, and one will get brain swelling so severe it can lead to convulsions and leave the child deaf or mentally impaired, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. In contrast the fears parents have to vaccinate in relation to autism and MMR according to the Wakefield study continues to rise even though the study was proven false. Wakefield was stripped of his license to practice medicine, and numerous conflicts of interest surrounding the study were discovered. Once upon a time before vaccinations, nearly everyone in the U.S. got measles before there was a vaccine, and hundreds died from it each year. Today, most doctors have never seen a case of measles, but cases keep popping up, the latest starting in Disneyland.
Still the anti-vax movement continues.
Mumps have also made a comeback. Before widespread vaccination, there were about 200,000 cases of mumps and 20 to 30 deaths reported each year in the USA. Mumps can in some cases lead to encephalitis and deafness. Herd immunity is important because the mumps vaccine is just 88% effective, explaining why someone can easily contract the disease even if they have been vaccinated as I did back in 9th grade from a foreign exchange student. I was vaccinated, but for whatever reason was infected from someone overseas. The CDC reports that the number of mumps cases doubled in the past year - affecting more than 1,000 people nationwide.
Pertussis or whooping cough was a universal disease in the pre-vaccination era was almost always seen in children. Between 1940 and 1945, before widespread vaccination, as many as 147,000 cases of pertussis were reported in the USA each year, with approximately 8,000 deaths caused by the disease. It is estimated that at the beginning of the 20th century as many as 5 of every 1000 children born in the USA died from pertussis.
Why don't parents vaccinate today? Parents today did not grow up with these diseases and see the thousands of children die. We are not afraid of these diseases because they have not been a part of our lives and take for granted how these diseases can cause death or severe consequences. Parents hear celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, Alicia Silverstone and Kristin Cavallari cite fear as a reason not to vaccinate. But what many don't realize is that those against vaccines and not vaccinating their children depend on the rest of us to vaccinate to stay safe. The more people that join in the crusade that vaccines are evil, the higher the risk their own children will succumb to diseases that were virtually gone just a few years ago.
Side effects of vaccines are mild according to the CDC. And while there are very rare cases of vaccine-related issues, the benefit far outweighs the risk if you compare the numbers pre-vaccination era vs. after vaccinations were introduced.
Why should parents vaccinate? Parents should vaccinate because vaccines are preventing complications from preventable childhood illnesses that can cause deafness, blindness, hospitalization, other life altering effects and death. Parents should become informed and become critical thinkers about the decisions made to increase the risk of these diseases to their children and others who are unable to fight infection (elderly, immunodeficiencies, and the very young). Parents should not, as I did, make decisions by fear and paranoia and look at the facts. We should also as a society consider public health and realize that vaccines are safe and very effective and not vaccinating is irresponsible.
Fortunately, I woke up from the "anti-vax movement" before endangering my son further. Although his vaccines were spaced out individually and further apart, he ended up receiving them all. My daugther, on the other hand, received them all on time as outlined by the CDC. I do have much greater peace of mind knowing the numbers don't lie, vaccines save lives and have since they were first introduced years ago. I am glad I did not let the fear of the unknown and debunked guide my choices to put them in harm's way.