Vaccine hesitancy sparks outbreaks of measles

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A developed country, through decades of scientific research, makes reliable vaccines for some of the most virulent diseases known to mankind. These vaccines are administered and help to curtail illness and raise the quality of life for everyone.

Then, just when it seemed like these diseases were finally eradicated, groups of misguided individuals suddenly rise against and reject this necessary preventative measure, labeling them as a health risk and abstaining from vaccinations on “philosophical” grounds. Soon, those very diseases resurface, wreaking havoc in communities that are left vulnerable because of these groups’ decisions.

Sounds ridiculous, right? Yet as irrational as anti-vaccination groups may be, it doesn’t change the fact that the anti-vaxxer movement has made a resurgence in the past few years. That’s not to say that objection to vaccination is anything new; people have resisted getting vaccinated since the introduction of vaccines, although such beliefs truly came into the limelight in the late '90s and early 2000s thanks to a single (emphasis on single) false study in 1998 that accused vaccines of causing autism.

Today, the problem is more serious than ever before, with outbreaks of measles sweeping the Pacific Northwest. What sets this region of the country apart is that it has a relatively higher concentration of anti-vaxxers, acting as a refuge for those seeking laxer regulations and greater autonomy. That’s not to say the rest of the country is perfect; in Ohio and 16 other states, parents can opt out of required vaccinations for philosophical reasons — whatever that means — and all states allow abstention from vaccinations for medical reasons.

It is disheartening to see the spread of these unfounded and dangerous ideologies, but, in the age of misinformation, it is not surprising. What’s truly frustrating about this situation is that no matter how much evidence is presented in favor of vaccines, those who oppose them will forever cling to their shoddy statistics and incorrect nonsense; after all, convincing those mired in belief-perseverance is notoriously difficult.

What anti-vaxxers fail to realize is just how selfish their actions are. It may seem like a vaccine is a shot administered to the individual, but the reason that they work is because of the principle of herd immunity. If enough individuals in a certain population are vaccinated against a certain disease, then everyone in that community is protected. Conversely, when not enough people get vaccinated, preventable diseases have a field day. Once that happens, everyone is at risk.

Making the movement even more ludicrous is the fact that many anti-vaxxers were vaccinated by their parents, which paints the whole situation of depriving their children of vaccines as even more depraved and downright wrong. Luckily, teens suffering under anti-vaccination households are beginning to take initiative, seeking out ways to get vaccinated without their parent’s consent.

As encouraging as that may be, it isn’t nearly enough to fix the problem. So, what else can be done to neutralize the anti-vaxxer threat?

It’s been said before but vaccinations should become mandatory for everyone who does not have a medical conflict. Understandably, making anything government-mandated is not going to be a popular choice, but people need to realize that vaccinations are not a personal or ethical issue like conscientiously objecting from the military: it is a matter of public health and well-being. If everyone gets vaccinated, no one gets sick, a literal win-win situation that should be the status quo. This is especially important in tight-knit communities such as college campuses where students are in close contact with one another; the fact that vaccination rates among college students are abysmally low is concerning. Luckily for us, Carnegie Mellon takes vaccinations seriously with University Health Services mounting aggressive campaigns to get students vaccinated to prevent outbreaks of flu and other preventable illnesses.

Beyond just giving everyone vaccines, however, there must be greater efforts toward combating the spread of anti-science in our society. Creating herd immunity through vaccinations, though important, is not the only problem that stems from a stigma against science; we see this exact same narrative with climate change, and to a less serious degree in flat earthers.

Scientists who make the critical breakthroughs that elevate the standard of living must be more aggressive in spreading the word because radical discoveries are often demonized by those who fear great change. Only by dispelling doubts and rumors and advancing the truth can we ensure that populations can take advantage of these innovations and leverage them towards creating a better world. Additionally, the education system should be standardized to reflect the scientifically justified body of knowledge so that future generations are firmly grounded upon a foundation of facts rather than myths. To allow anything else would be a disservice, and only perpetuate misinformation.

As citizens in the 21st century, we should be focused on progression rather than regression. Illnesses like polio and measles became preventable in the 20th century, and are all but gone in the U.S. Instead of allowing these diseases to make a comeback, we should turn our attention towards more pressing matters of public health, taking a step forward rather than a step back.