Last year the rate of measles cases increased 50%, according to the Guardian. Now in New York, a measles outbreak has occurred after individuals returned from Israel after the holidays, with more than just fond memories packed in their carry-on. This is not normal. The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine has been available and safely implemented for at least 50 years, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). While the vaccine requires a series of dosages given to children between birth and school age, the pain and annoyance of holding a toddler down for a shot is well worth it in the long run. Children who successfully finish their MMR series, something which is required in most school districts for enrollment, are far less likely than unvaccinated peers to contract the deadly illness, saving families thousands of dollars in medical expenses, as well as the pain of losing a child. With all the great reasons to keep children up to date on their vaccinations, one might think that a parent would have to be pretty ignorant not to get the shots over and done with. Enter the anti-vaccine movement.
My first exposure to the anti-vaccine movement came during the 2009 swine flu pandemic. I distinctly remember the fear garnered around what some thought could become another Spanish Flu, so bad at points that pork sales dropped, despite no actual link between pork consumption and swine flu contraction (ABC). I also remember being told by classmates at my small Christian private school that they were not getting the vaccine that had just come out because it had the swine flu in it, and thus, would give them the flu. Even as I got my vaccine in my county’s health department, this thought echoed in my head. Still, I got my shot, in addition to most of the other vaccines that my doctor deemed necessary. I hate needles, but I hate being sick even more, and time and again vaccines proved effective in my own life, and in the lives of others.
Still, despite so much evidence in favor of getting shots, the anti-vaccine movement remains strong, especially in young mother communities and mommy blogs. One top culprit that comes to mind is Jenny McCarthy, film and television star, model and unlikely lifestyle guide. McCarthy, despite her lack of medical expertise, found herself supporting the misconception that there is a link between vaccines and autism when her own child was diagnosed with autism following inoculation. She claims that the proof is in the gut, where she claims inflammation from imbalances caused by vaccines can brew, leading to problems in the brain. McCarthy said in a 2010 interview, “A lot of people didn’t understand there was a gut and brain connection, and I would tell them: ‘Let’s go try that theory out in a bar. Go have a drink, and see how it affects your brain’” (PBS), going on to say that “If you talk to parents who have children with autism, they have little Buddha bellies. Their guts are inflamed.”
McCarthy has gone on to publish several books on the topic of autism and its alleged vaccine connection, such as “Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism,” “Healing and Preventing Autism: A Complete Guide” and “Mother Warriors: A Nation of Parents Healing Autism Against All Odds.”It should be noted for clarity’s sake that there is no known link between autism and vaccination. This supposed link first came about in a 1998 paper published by Dr. Andrew Wakefield in “The Lancet.” Wakefield’s medical license has since been revoked. According to HealthLine, “Later investigations have shown that Wakefield was set to benefit from lawsuits based on his research. The study was retracted after numerous other scientists could not replicate his findings” (HealthLine). Despite the fact that no credible papers have been published since in support of an autism and vaccine link, the damage was already done, and a seed was planted. McCarthy is partially to blame for spreading the misinformation, though it probably would have gotten around even without her help. The actress, who clearly has some toxic feelings about her own son’s autism, now judges on the show “The Masked Singer,” where she is referred to as a cultural influencer. For the record, autism is not a disease to be cured, it is a developmental disorder, like epilepsy.
Measles is an awful disease, which can kill if not treated quickly. According to the World Health Organization, measles can result in complications like “blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), severe diarrhea and related dehydration, ear infections, or severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia” (WHO). One of the first symptoms is a high fever, which can last up to a week, with a signature rash following. Even in mild cases, measles can last weeks on end. What parent would want to deal with that, even if (strong if) it could give their child a strong natural immunity? Worse yet, the people at highest risk are the immunocompromised, young children and pregnant women. These people, who cannot be vaccinated even if they would like to be, are vulnerable without the herd immunity that comes when others get their vaccines. At that point, not being vaccinated when it is totally safe to do so is not only irresponsible for personal health, but irresponsible towards the most vulnerable among us. If cost is a worry, most insurance plans cover vaccines, and resources are available for the uninsured. Don’t just do it for yourself, do it for society.