Earlier this month the medical journal Pediatrics published a study of parent’s perceptions of anti-vaccination methods. After surveying nearly 1,800 parents the study concluded that public health communications about the importance of vaccination likely makes parents less likely to vaccinate their children.
For more than 15 years, thousands of parents have made a choice to not have their children vaccinated against a wide variety of illnesses, including diphtheria, typhoid, tuberculosis, chicken pox, and rubella.
Celebrities and journalists like Jenny McCarthy and Katie Couric have fanned the flames, giving even the most informed parent pause about the safety of vaccinations. Nearly half of all children in the U.S. are not vaccinated or getting their vaccinations late, according to a 2013 study by the Kaiser Permanente Colorado Institute for Health Research.
The anti-vaxxer movement started with an article in 1998 in The Lancet linked autism to eight autistic children after they had the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. But what isn't getting reported or taken up as a celebrity cause is that the study has been completely debunked.
Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that the Lancet and most of the co-authors of the paper retracted it, and the lead author and two of the study's co-authors were subjected to professional misconduct hearings.
The lead author is no longer allowed to practice medicine. A study of 500 autistic children just a year later found no link to their condition and vaccines. Dozens of studies since, gathering data from thousands of autistic children, still haven't been able to establish an association between vaccines and autism.
The reality is, today we know what we didn't more than a decade ago: The anti-vaxxer concern about vaccines causing a sharp rise in autism is completely unfounded, and the thousands of children walking around unvaccinated are a threat to the health of all Americans.
If you think that’s extreme, The Los Angeles Times recently reported that a 2010 outbreak of whooping cough can be directly linked to the increasing prevalence of unvaccinated children.
Last year in the Dallas area, media reported a measles outbreak that sickened more than 20 people. The cases originated in a church that promoted the anti-vaccination movement.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), one child in every 150 was diagnosed with autism in 2000.
Today, one child in 88 will receive the diagnosis. Recent studies in the past several years have linked the skyrocketing rise in autism cases to a variety of factors.
A 2010 study at the University of California Davis found that mothers giving birth after age 30 can increase the chance of a child having autism by 50 percent.
A 2013 study from the University of Utah found that mothers who only gained a small amount of weight during pregnancy may also have a higher risk of the baby being autistic.
The National Institutes for Health says that both genetics and environmental factors likely play a role in autism.
In the last 50 years, vaccination programs have been wildly successful. Smallpox, a disease that may have killed more people than any other in history, has been eradicated.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), polio, which crippled and maimed millions, only exists in a few places outside the United States. But today, thanks to anti-vaxxers, the U.S. has contributed to dozens of outbreaks of measles and whooping cough last year alone.
Vaccines do more than keep you and me or our children from getting sick – they keep disease from spreading.
There are many middle-aged and elderly people walking around today that survived the measles, but according to CDCP, one or two kids out of every thousand die.
Cases of rubella contracted by pregnant women often resulted in miscarriage or birth defects, according to the CDCP. The mumps can lead to deafness, encephalitis and meningitis. And these are tragedies that could happen by not getting a kid just one vaccine.
The World Health Organization (WHO), NIH, CDCP, and the professional organization for American pediatricians implore parents to get their kids vaccinated. These are much more credible sources than celebrities and even the mainstream media.
Parents need to hear out their physician and do their due diligence before choosing to put their child, and their community, at risk for preventable disease.
Joseph Colangelo is executive director of Consumers' Research. Consumers' Research was founded in 1929 as a product testing and consumer advocacy organization and publishes a bimonthly magazine on consumer topics.