Which is more dangerous……vaccines or the anti-vaccine movement?

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Source: CalWatchdog

Global efforts to increase immunization rates have seen major accomplishments in the past few years.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) created a massive measles initiative that is credited with measles elimination in the Americas. And, just this year, India was declared polio-free after a focus on increased mass immunization efforts.  While global efforts to improve vaccination rates and improve child health are seeing some significant successes, the United States seems to be falling in a different direction. 

Source: Caifornia Department of Public Health

California, in particular, has seen recent outbreaks in vaccine-preventable diseases including measles and pertussis.  These diseases are highly contagious and have very serious, sometimes deadly health consequences. 

Why are these outbreaks occurring?

More and more parents in California are choosing NOT to vaccinate their children. 

Many parents cite the association between vaccines and autism, brain damage, or developmental problems as a reason for refusing vaccines.  While no doctor can claim that vaccines are 100% safe, the highly publicized information linking vaccines to autism has been scientifically discredited.  This anti-vaccine movement in California is strong, but those who are most vocal in opposing vaccinations are often using non-scientific, out-dated, or discredited information that is scaring parents.  The American Academy of Physicians,  National Association of School Nurses, California Department of Public ,and CDC are reputable organizations, all of whom urge parents to comply with timely vaccinations for healthy children.  Yet, parents are often confused by conflicting messages between medical organizations and the anti-vaccine groups.  As a result of choosing not to vaccinate their own children, these parents are placing their own and other children at risk for very serious diseases. 

A new bill AB2109was proposed in California that would require parents who choose to not vaccinate their children to have a physician’s note on file before their children could attend public school.  The physicians note would testify that the health benefits and risks of immunizations were discussed in detail with the parent who refused the vaccinations.  This proposed bill would allow parents freedom in refusing vaccinations, but would increase parent education and limit false information from interfering with a parent’s decision.   This change in policy, if adopted and implemented, could be the beginning of a reverse in this trend of preventable childhood infectious disease outbreaks in California.

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6 Responses to “Which is more dangerous……vaccines or the anti-vaccine movement?”

  1. joeleemcdonnell Says:

    Without a doubt immunizations have been among the most successful public health programs of the 20th century, Most of us today aren’t directly familiar with diseases that used to kill and permanently disable children. Smallpox, diphtheria and polio seem to be only historic references today. In a way vaccination programs are a victim of their own success because parents don’t have a sense of what life is like without immunity. However now diseases like pertussis (whooping cough) and measles have been seen in multiple outbreaks exposing vulnerable children who have not had the opportunity to be vaccinated.

    Vaccine safety is a poor excuse and as indicated not founded in good science. Most parents who claim to question vaccine safety can’t even make a good argument but rather utter small sound bites that they’ve heard in passing.

    This goes beyond a question of ideological belief or political persuasion. It’s a question of the most basic human right to safety. This is the right of children and no person, not even the child’s parents, should be allowed to deprive them of it. No more than they should be able to choose to opt out child safety seats in automobiles. We can debate which vaccines are appropriate under mandates, but those which have been proven safe and effective should be a bear minimum requirement for all children in America.

  2. canarave Says:

    The proposed bill in California is a good example of honoring personal freedoms while still protecting health “consumers” from misinformation and claims that have been discredited by solid science. It is interesting that with all the environmental health dangers that have come out in the past few years, many parents are choosing to fixate on vaccines. There are many physical and chemical agents that are ubiquitous and have been demonstrated to be far more harmful than any vaccine. Perhaps this move to vilify vaccines is due to the fact that it is at least something concrete that people can oppose, rather than tackling the herculean task of protecting ourselves from toxic chemical agents that are now entrenched in our consumer society.

  3. shari01 Says:

    Hopkins has a great course, Public Health and the Law, which includes a discussion on vaccine cases such as Jacobson v. Massachusetts (police power vs. individual rights). “Opt out” possibilities remain with vaccines, but one still hopes that not too many people opt out and herd immunity protects the rest. The proposed bill in California sounds like a good idea; one hopes that the “refusers” will at least have some informed basis for their decision.

  4. kburns7 Says:

    This is a great posting, and brings to light a real issue we’re having in our country. The proposed bill in California is a thoughtful approach and will hopefully help in assuring parents are better informed when it comes to vaccinations. I have to wonder if a physicians note is needed for both medical and religious exemptions? I know in Pennsylvania, a child must get certain vaccines required by the state before they can begin school. However, if the parents claim a religious exemption, they do not need to provide any particular documentation. (For medical exemptions a doctor’s note is required.) I feel it is important to respect a parent’s decision to decline vaccination for religious reasons, but also wonder if this is not being abused in some instances? However, I don’t feel that requiring parents to get a note from their physicians before claiming a religious exemption is also the answer. The question remains, how do we ensure parents are properly educated regarding the risks and benefits of vaccinating their children while also remaining sensitive to religious and medical reasons for declining vaccination?

  5. rosekm Says:

    This is a very important issue that deserves greater attention. The bill proposed in California is a step in the right direction. I speak to parents all the time that believe that vaccines cause autism. As a infectious disease scientist, I feel compelled try to convince them that there is no evidence that this is true. I believe many parents are uneducated about the risks and benefits of childhood vaccination, and if this law is passed then hopefully some of them will be convinced they are worth the very limited side effects. I have also had some parents tell me that they just can’t stand the thought of their young child getting yet another vaccination, so they refuse the annual flu vaccine. I also wish their was more education to let parents know that young children and those with asthma are at risk for serious complications from influenza infection. I agree that it is important to respect religious and personal beliefs regarding vaccination, however, if the current trend continues and more parents chose to opt out of vaccinating their children then we will see more frequent and more serious outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases in this country. In the US we suffer from vaccine complacency because we have not had to suffer from major epidemics as they do in resource poor countries everyday. It may take such an epidemic to bring some people out of complacency.

  6. alydpt05 Says:

    California is one of 17 states that allows for vaccine exemption not just for medical reasons, but also for philosophical beliefs. The philosophical belief exemption is written to include those who oppose vaccinations for religious reasons. Currently, the process to gain exemption from the state`s vaccine requirements for school entry is that the parents check off “philosophical beliefs” on an exemption form provided by the schools.

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