One of the latest controversies in the US has been the anti-vax movement. Recently, I began to question the effect an anti-vaxxer parent could have on their children. Could a child be vaccinated while still a minor, and if they couldn’t, how would this affect them?
First, I researched the movement’s evidence. The anti-vax movement gained popularity after a study in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield, who claimed the MMR vaccine caused autism. However, the movement has no foundation because it was later proven that he falsified his data and was stripped of his medical license. A case control study in 2009 further disproved Dr. Wakefield’s theory.
Anti-vaxxers also believe that “Big Pharma” is trying to get rich through expensive vaccinations. Yet without vaccines, the elevated disease rates would cause costly treatment plans. Anti-vaxxers affect “herd immunity,” leaving the population at risk for harmful diseases.
The anti-vax movement spreads in small geographic clusters, due to peer pressure and stigma within those communities. Airborne diseases can remain in the environment for several hours, leading to some people being infected without even realizing they’ve been exposed. Contrary to anti-vaxxer belief, hygiene can’t prevent these diseases.
As of April 9, there’s an ongoing measles outbreak in the NYC area. In efforts to stop the spread some schools have barred unvaxxed children, interrupting their education. This ban has heavily affected the Orthodox Jewish community, causing tensions to rise.
Measles has a greater than 90 percent infection rate once exposed. It is an airborne disease that can be transmitted before diagnosis. Unvaxxed children pose a threat to babies, who are too young to receive the vaccine. Due to this, an unvaxxed child can be excluded from some situations in fear of infection, causing them to feel ostracized and alone.
Minors can consent to their own vaccinations in 15 states, but not NY or CT. Some exceptions are made for minors who are married, pregnant, or financially independent, but minors without extraneous situations are stuck. Emancipation is pretty much the sole option, one which many minors will not select due to its other consequences.
To address these situations, I think new legislature should be passed regarding vaccines. Not only would this help protect individuals against infectious disease, it would decrease the likelihood of more outbreaks like the one in NYC. Minors should be able to petition the court to get vaccinated, without having to get emancipated from their parents or accuse them of child neglect. In addition, in high-risk situations (ex: measles outbreak), the court should give priority to vaccination appeals.
As I said earlier, the foundation of the anti-vax movement is based on falsified data and misinformation. I think schools should make a conscious effort to destigmatize vaccines, and even include them in the core health curriculum. Once presented with the proper facts, the community as a whole will better understand vaccines and their intended effect. Most schools have a weekly or monthly newsletter. Including some quick facts about vaccines could help to make a big change.
Although there is no perfect solution to this problem, it is my strong belief that a combination of education and legislature would increase vaccine rates throughout the world. At their core, vaccines are meant to protect and better the lives of the human population. This rise would decrease risk and fear of infection as well as allow formerly unvaxxed children to be included in every part of daily life, in turn improving overall happiness. However, I also want to include that both vax and anti-vax parents would argue that they are acting with their children’s best health interests in mind. It’s important to remember that the fight for a healthy population isn’t these two groups against each other, but rather everybody against infectious diseases.