August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM), a global campaign that’s designed to educate patients of all ages on the importance of vaccinations and their ability to prevent serious diseases, including hepatitis A and B, measles, mumps, influenza, and even chickenpox. But in recent years, what’s known as the anti-vax movement has been on the rise. Members of this group believe the risks of being vaccinated outweigh the benefits. Thanks to the spread of misinformation, some parents and patients believe vaccines are medically unnecessary, while others believe they can cause autism and overburden the person’s immune system.
The World Health Organization has just declared vaccine hesitancy and the anti-vax movement an international public health crisis. The number of pediatricians reporting parents refusing vaccines for their children is on the rise, as is the number of measles cases in the U.S.
This National Immunization Awareness Month, we’re taking a look at this contentious argument, including how the anti-vax movement has grown in recent years and how the medical community is trying to combat it.
The Rise of the Anti-Vax Movement
Back in 2000, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention declared that measles had been eliminated from the U.S., thanks to a measles vaccine that’s 99% effective with virtually zero side effects. Despite this breakthrough, measles is back in the country and what’s worse, it’s also on the rise. The CDC has reported 695 measles cases this year alone, the most since 2000. These cases are mainly concentrated in three areas: Washington D.C. and two boroughs of New York City.
What’s the catalyst for this recent measles outbreak? The anti-vax movement has picked up steam in recent years as anti-vax groups continue spreading misinformation on social media, targeting parents with small children and members of various religious communities. In New York City, members of the movement were seen passing out pamphlets on the dangers of vaccinations throughout the Jewish community, but these pamphlets contained misleading and incorrect information that goes against the findings of the medical community.
The anti-vax movement can be traced back to 1998, when a doctor published a fraudulent paper about the dangers of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The doctor lost his license to practice medicine after it was revealed that much of the information published in the paper contained misleading and falsified evidence. This doctor has since become a symbol of the anti-vax movement, spreading his message to patients all over the globe. Since then, the number of parents and patients refusing or delaying vaccinations has been on the rise. In 2013, 87% of pediatricians reported experiencing a vaccine refusal, up from 74% in 2006.
In the age of social media, parents and patients of all ages may see a post or article decrying the benefits of vaccines, since anyone can post misleading or falsified information online. Parents and patients should verify that any information they read online about vaccinations is credible before accepting it as fact. That’s why the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other healthcare organizations launched National Immunization Awareness Month as a way of combating false information.
Looking at the Evidence
If we look at recent studies on the benefits of vaccinations, the evidence is clear. Numerous studies have shown no significant correlations between vaccines and the risk of developing non-vaccine targeted infections, autism, ASD, antibody-stimulating proteins that can weaken the immune system, and neuropsychological symptoms, all of which have been used in recent anti-vax misinformation campaigns.
According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, every U.S. dollar spent on vaccinations saves up to $44 in benefits. The side effects of vaccines are short-lived and could include pain, swelling, or redness where the shot was given, while more serious side effects are extremely rare.
Some states have laws that allow parents to opt out of vaccinations for personal reasons, many of which are related to the parent’s spiritual or religious beliefs, but in the wake of recent measles outbreaks and the spread of misinformation, many states have since closed these loopholes.
When patients and parents opt out of vaccinations, they run the risk of contracting infectious diseases, many of which spread through the air and direct contact. Patients and children can easily spread these diseases at school, at work, or in other public settings, putting other patients and children at risk. While the decision to forgo vaccinations may seem like a personal one, it can have lasting and far-reaching consequences.
Everyone deserves to go to work or school without fearing the spread of infectious diseases. While the CDC and other healthcare organizations continue spreading their message, misleading anti-vax information will likely continue to thrive online. Parents and patients of all ages should talk to their doctor about the benefits of vaccines instead of getting their information from social media and other unverified sources.