BY ERIC SCHAFER
New York City made headlines in early April when Mayor Bill de Blasio and Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot announced a public health emergency due to an outbreak of measles, ordering all residents to get vaccinated or face fines of up to $1,000, and even banning unvaccinated minors from public places. Although the order remains extremely controversial, it exists for a good reason; Measles in the U.S. has reached 704 cases in 2019 alone, spanning across 22 states and breaking the country’s record for the first time in 25 years.
This outbreak has left many health professionals baffled. After all, the disease was declared eradicated in the U.S in 2000, and our collective medical knowledge is more advanced than ever. So why on Earth would such a preventable disease be back?
The answer to that is, unfortunately, the rise of the “Anti-Vax” movement. Although the modern movement has only gained a significant amount of traction in the last couple years, it initially started in 1998 when British doctor Andrew Wakefield published a fraudulent paper about a false correlation between the measles vaccines and autism. Wakefield, who lost his medical license as a result of the fraud, was known to have taken a large sum of money from lawyers who were trying to build a case to sue vaccine makers.
Despite being a known scam artist, the former doctor is now a hero to the modern anti-vax movement, many of whom are white, affluent, and privileged. Distrust is an extremely prevalent theme within the anti-vax argument, with the main catalyst for the refusal to vaccinate being distrust of the pharmaceutical industry. Many parents, including Bernadette Pajer, the founder of a Washington state advocacy group, have even become skeptical after their children had severe allergic reactions to vaccines. Of course, fearing potential side effects of the vaccines is a valid concern that many parents often have, but allergic reactions are very uncommon. The measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine for example has an allergic reaction rate of 1 per 1,000,000 doses, compared to the 1 in 500 chance of death from contracting the measles.
Not to mention that the benefits outweigh the negatives and vaccines are proven to be effective against fighting diseases. Recent studies show that the flu vaccine “reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% to 60% among the overall population during flu season” as well as prevented an estimated 5.3 million influenza illnesses for the 2016-2017 year, even reducing the risk of being hospitalized by 59%.
Unfortunately, because vaccines are so effective against illness, this means that a falling vaccination rate is leading the U.S. into danger. Researchers in 2013 established a link between falling immunization rates and the increased cases of whooping cough in California, which at the time amounted to 9,120 documented cases and only increased as more and more children attending public school reported non medical vaccine exemptions.
More and more cities in the U.S., including New York, are experiencing a public health crisis as the result of increased vaccine refusal, which the CDC warns will only get worse if immunization rates continue to fall. In order to prevent any further horrific cases of these easily preventable diseases, the rest of the country needs to follow New York’s example and make vaccination mandatory by establishing heavy fines and banning unvaccinated children from public schools. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.