March 31, 2013

SEPPINNI: Anti-Vaxx Is Anti-Fact

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Last week the Journal of Pediatrics released a study that confirmed what every competent pediatrician and parent has known for some time: The number of vaccinations a child receives is in no way related to her risk of becoming autistic.

Soon after the study was released, the Center for Disease Control announced that three cases of congenital rubella have been confirmed within the United States this year. If reading this does not alarm you, it should. Since 2008 there had not been one case of congenital rubella in the United States. What is to blame for this and other outbreaks of previously eradicated diseases? It’s the rise of utterly misinformed and criminally negligent parents who do not vaccinate themselves or their kids. In 1964 and 1965 the endemic rubella virus infected 12.5 million people and caused 11,250 “therapeutic or spontaneous abortions, 2,100 neonatal deaths” and 20,000 infants born with congenital rubella syndrome. These three recent cases were found in immigrants’ children who, by no fault of their own, were unable to get vaccinations in their countries of origin. The problem is that within American communities other children are left vulnerable to this reintroduced disease because some parents make a conscious decision to opt-out of vaccinations.

The only public health concern even remotely related to vaccines seems to be nude model Jenny McCarthy and her anti-vaxx campaigns — Or is it anti-fact? Or is that a distinction without a difference?

The jury is no longer out. Childhood vaccinations are safe and effective. Parents who knowingly choose not to vaccinate their children should be held criminally liable. Not vaccinating one’s child is akin to driving a newborn baby on a street filled with speeding cars, yet choosing not to put the baby in a car seat. There are laws that require parents to use car seats for their children in order to protect the child’s interest. Why not implement laws that promote society’s best interest and protect a group of people — newborn babies — who are unable to protect themselves?

When an adult chooses not to vaccinate him or herself, it puts more than just the individual at risk. For example, in 2010, in California alone nine babies who were too young to receive the whooping cough vaccine died from the disease, which was ostensibly caught from unvaccinated adults (often their own mothers).

In many cases, once a critical mass of immunity is reached, even those without immunity are protected because the disease can no longer sustain itself within the population. People who free ride on herd immunity also jeopardize it. Once that critical mass is lost and a traveler reintroduces the disease from another country with poorer immunization practices, herd immunity can be shattered. Roughly 80 to 86 percent of the population must be immune to polio for herd immunity to be effective. Washington State, for example, has an opt out rate of 6.2 percent, which might eliminate herd immunity for many diseases and leave children defenseless against dangerous pathogens. This statistic is particularly disturbing. The polio vaccine has a 95 percent success rate. If 100 percent of people took the vaccine, five percent would not become immune. Normally this would not be cause for concern. However, combine this with the fact that 6.2 percent of parents opt their kids out of vaccinations in Washington state, and the rate of immunity drops dangerously close to the herd immunity threshold.

It’s time lawmakers put the interests of children and society before those of misinformed parents. Just as parents must strap their children into a seat belt, regardless of whether their conscience tells them otherwise, safe vaccines should be mandatory and parents who dodge them should be held criminally responsible.

S.D. Seppinni is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at s.d.seppinni@cornellsun.com. Letters from a Young Curmudgeon appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: S.D. Seppinni

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