-by Betsy Kim- “Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism. We urge that all children be fully vaccinated,” Rob Ring, Chief Science Officer of Autism Speaks, stated in early February. Ring’s dire warning was undoubtedly prompted by what prominent biologist and Forbes columnist Steven Salzberg called “the worst measles outbreak in years.” The numbers certainly are sobering: according to the Center for Disease Control, measles has already infected 121 people across 17 states this year, a dismal beginning to what may be the worst measles outbreak since 2000. A majority of those infected were unvaccinated, and many Americans – Salzberg included – blame the outbreak on advocates of the “anti-vaxxer” movement, which claims that autism can be induced by vaccination.
The anti-vaccination movement began with a now-debunked study in 1998, which linked the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism. Although the study was later shown to be a fraud, (its author lost his medical license shortly after the study was proved false), it developed into a formidable movement that has thrived until today. Despite having little credibility in the scientific community, the anti-vaxxer movement has convinced many parents to refuse vaccination for their children.
Contrary to anti-vaxxers’ claims, however, a large majority of the people who receive the MMR vaccine experience no side effects, while serious consequences (such as seizures or encephalitis) affect less than .03% of the nation. Extensive studies over the past twenty years demonstrate that there is no correlation between vaccines and autism. In fact, MMR vaccines have been anything but harmful. According to the World Health Organization, measles vaccinations prevented an estimated 15.6 million deaths between 2000 and 2013 worldwide, dropping the measles mortality rate by 75% and making the MMR vaccine one of the most successful buys in public health.
While people of all age groups can contract measles, unvaccinated young children remain the most vulnerable; however, many parents continue to deny their children vaccination and, consequently, their safety. Complications from measles (pneumonia, permanent ear damage, brain swelling), can cause irreversible consequences that no parent wants their child to endure. Denying vaccination to one child not only could jeopardize his or her own safety, but the safety of other children as well: every person who contracts the disease is capable of spreading it to an average of 18 other people. To put this into perspective: if a majority of Winsor was unvaccinated and one student contracted the disease, she would easily infect one-third of her class within a few days. By contrast, if the majority of Winsor was vaccinated and one student contracted the disease, the group or “herd” immunity would prevent measles from breaking out. Herd immunity is not only crucial to communities, but cancer patients who are unable to be vaccinated and are consequently forced to rely on it for survival. A single vaccination – which reduces a person’s chance of contracting measles by 93% – can make a world of a difference for both the individual and his or her peers.