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Since the beginning of time, illness has followed the humankind. We, as humans, studied illnesses so well to finally be able to cure or even prevent them through different means of medicine. Although some believed in natural remedies, vaccines, specifically, have helped forestall, and even eliminate, major diseases. In the past few years, anti-vaxxers have gained more media coverage than ever. They claim that vaccinating children is responsible for causing other disorders such as autism and brain damage. This notion is highly hazardous to society; it discourages families from getting their children vaccinated, causes widespread of misconceptions, and leads to losing trust in science and medical professionals. This paper argues the importance of vaccination from a scientific, financial, and social perspectives and highlights the most significant procedures taken against the movement.
In its list of the top 10 global health threats, the World Health Organization has recognized vaccine hesitancy as one of the most prominent threats of 2019 (WHO, 2018). Though WhatsApp, Facebook, blogs, and other means of propaganda, the Anti-vaxxer's movement earned most of its current supporters. The movement is linked by The World Health Organization (WHO) to various outbreaks of diseases that could have been prevented by vaccinations. A notable example of that is the increase of measles reporting beyond 30 percent (Osborne,2018). The preventable highly infectious disease can cause seizures and brain inflammation. Although the outcomes of depriving children from vaccinations can be hazardous, being part of a group of like-minded parents encourages people to act upon their misunderstanding of vaccinations. Despite the attention the movement gets today, movements against vaccinations have been present as early as 1763 in France. Among the many conspiracies that gained publicity at the time, was the belief that smallpox was God's punishment and for that it should not be cured nor prevented ('The Anti-vaccination Movement', 2018). Today's movement believers are called 'Anti-vaxxers' and their claims tend to lean on distorted science to appeal more to the public of today.
The most prominent claim of Anti-vaxxers is that vaccinations cause Autism and brain damage. These claims are based on a study done by Dr. Andrew Wakefield in 1998. The Lancet journal-published paper proposed that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) stimulated inflammation, harmful protein entrance to the bloodstream to the brain, autism developments. The study is flawed in so many ways and it was considered by professionals as 'bad science'. In 2010, The Lancet journal retracted the article and Dr. Wakefield was stripped of his medical license. Unfortunately, the paper is still the main source of support for Anti-vaxxers. One of the main issues with the Wakefield paper is its small sample of 12 participants. A new study, which is based on data from 650,000 children affirmed no link between MMR immunization and autistic symptoms.
In an published interview by Tamara Bhandri, Professor Michael Kinch, an associate vice chancellor at Washington University in St. Louis and director of the Center for Drug Discovery, expressed his concerns that scientists are losing the argument against anti-vaxxers. He points out that the anti-vaxxers' messages are outdoing those of pro-vaccinations.
In 2017, Children's Hospital Colorado reported that more than 9,400 children visited hospitals and emergency departments for diseases that could have been forestalled by vaccinations. The costs of these visits added up to approximately $55.5 million, charged on parents and insurers. Recovering from a disease that is preventable by a routinely vaccination at birth is costly, to say the least. The 2017 tetanus case in Oregon, which was the first to occur in more than 30 years is an unfortunate evidence of that. This case offers an incident where a 6-year-old's wound costed $800,000. Notably, these costs do not include the cost of the air ambulance nor the habitations that were used to treat the 6-year-old. To put things into perspective, tetanus can be prevented with five doses of $30 shots. So, the medical charges were around 5,400 times the cost of the routinely vaccination. Of course, the emotional cost of the child's illness and hospitalization cannot be neglected (Board, 2019).
Unvaccinated children put many society members who are not eligible for immunization at risks of being infected by deadly diseases. People with age restrictions, weak immune systems, or medical limitations are at maximal danger when surrounded by unvaccinated people. It is troubling that unvaccinated people, who should have been, do not take advantage of their ability to get immunized, but rather impose danger on those who are not in the same position. The case of Arizona's Maggie is a tragic example of how horrific the risks Anti-vaxxers impose on the society. In August 2014, Meggie's diagnosis of pre-B acute lymphoblastic leukemia came out. She battled cancer until she finished her last round of chemotherapy at Pheonix Children's Hospital. Technically, Meggie almost won her battle. It was not until she got exposed to measles by another patient, who could have been vaccinated, that her case worsened. Anti-vaxxers are responsible for exposing all those who are not able to immunized to an illness that is considered eliminated.
Along with the risks unvaccinated children impose on the society, the parent-child relationship is also influenced by the parents' stance on the matter. The case of High school senior Ethan Lindenberger and his Anti-vaxx mother is a good example of this. Growing up, Ethan was never vaccinated. In November 2018, he started critically evaluating his mother's decision and decided to turn to Reddit for information regarding the matter. On his first post he wrote, 'my parents are kind of stupid.' After, reading scientific papers and articles, Ethan decided to disobey his mother get immunized. Luckily, the law in Ohio allowed him, as an 18-year-old, to get vaccinated in December without his parents' permission. Ethan's younger siblings, however, remain deprived from essential immunizations.
Restrictions on the Movement
Because Anti-vaxxers are recognized for causing serious risk to society, multiple regulations are being studied to limit their power. When the movement started in England in 1853, an order of mandatory vaccination for infants up to 3 months old was enforced. The Act extended this age limit to 14 years in 1867 and added penalties for refusing vaccinations. These orders were immediately met with resistance and demands of giving citizens control of their bodies and their children's (Durbach, 2000). Similarly, orders against current Anti-vaxxers have been taken.
On April 9th, 2019, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York declared a public health emergency in regards to the expanding measles outbreak. The order requires vaccinations and state that New Yorkers living in affected neighborhoods may be subject to fines as large as $1,000. Dr. Barbot, the health commissioner, pointed out that incidents of persistent refusal would be handled on a case-by-case basis. The state of New York is not the first to declare a state of emergency due to Measles outbreak; earlier this year, Washington State officials declared state of emergency for the same reasons. While outbreaks were present in other states, such as Minnesota, no emergency declaration nor vaccination requirements were manifested by states' officials.
In a recent attempt of abolishing conspiracy theories and distorted information, GoFundMe, a crowdfunding platform dedicated to raising funds for good causes and practical projects, banned Anti-vaxxers' activities and promised to remove all posted campaigns. While many were not backed in the first place, the most successful campaign managed to raise up to $1,010. GoFundMe is not the only online platform that restricted Anti-vaxxers' activities: Pinterest blocked search results for the term, YouTube demonetized related videos, and Facebook reduced the prominence of associated posts.
Recognized for scientific flaws, economic disadvantages, and social risks, the Anti-vaxx movement have been restricted by authorities and social network platforms. In the future, more studies proving the safety and effectiveness of vaccines are predicted to be published. Based on these studies, more restrictions to the movement are expected. It is important to note, however, that the rise of Anti-vaxxers is not limited to specific geographic areas. Anti-vaxxers are present in countries across the world and it is often the result of ignorance and distrust. Perhaps, the solution for such cases is through raising awareness and spreading knowledge. There will always be resistance of medical recommendations, but ensuring that the resistance does not impose risks on the society is essential to maintain public health.
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