I Am Not Throwing Away My Shot
“Just the other day, two years old, 2½ years old, a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic,” said now President-elect, Donald Trump, in the GOP debate in September 2015 (Miller, 2015). As Lemons (2016) details in her CQ Researcher report on “Vaccine Controversies,” vaccines have been controversial among small, but vocal groups since their invention (p. 177). Today, the Pew Research Center found only 17 percent of the public thinks vaccines are unsafe; however, younger adults were found to be more likely to fall into this group (Lemons, 2016, p. 172). Thus, with the upcoming generation skeptical of vaccines, the 2015 measles outbreak at Disneyland, and the words of our soon-to-be president, the debate over mandatory vaccinations for public school attendance seems poised to grow. It is imperative for the public to differentiate fact from fiction. Vaccines are safe and effective and a necessity because the diseases they protect from are far more dangerous than the vaccines themselves. More important, parents have a civic duty to protect those who are unable to receive vaccinations due to compromised immune systems. Thus, vaccinations must be required for children attending public school.
Modern science overwhelmingly supports the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Vaccines function by causing the body to create antibodies which protect the patient from the specific illnesses the vaccine immunizes against (“How do Vaccines Work?” 2015). To reach the public, a vaccine undergoes extensive review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Once the vaccine satisfies the FDA, it is reviewed further by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Academy of Family Physicians (“Vaccine Safety: The Facts,” 2016). In true scientific fashion, vaccines are peer reviewed before they are “published.”
Furthermore, these organizations involved in vaccine inspection are credible, objective, and respectable. They include the CDC and the AAP, highly reputable organizations, which enthusiastically support vaccines. The CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases is a member of the World Health Organization’s Vaccine Safety Net (“Finding Credible Vaccine Information,” 2014). The Vaccine Safety Net evaluates the credibility of vaccine information websites, holding them to standards of credibility, content, accessibility, and design (“Vaccine Safety Net,” 2016). They found the CDC’s website “…includes credible vaccine and immunization information” (“Global Vaccine Safety: CDC,” 2016). Additionally, the CDC states their “…vaccines and immunization web content is researched, written and approved by subject matter experts, including physicians, researchers, epidemiologists, and analysts. Content is based on peer-reviewed science” (“Finding Credible Vaccine Information,” 2014). The CDC is clearly a credible organization and states, “Like any medication, vaccines, can cause side effects. The most common side effects are mild. On the other hand, many vaccine-preventable disease symptoms can be serious or even deadly” (“Making the Vaccine Decision,” 2016). The AAP, meanwhile, is a membership organization of 64,000 pediatricians that advocate for childhood health care, host research programs, and have the largest pediatric publishing program in the world (“AAP Facts,” 2016). The AAP argues “… that immunizations are the safest and most cost-effective way of preventing disease, disability, and death” (“Where We Stand: Immunizations,” 2015). They also assert that despite possible risks, “getting vaccinated is much better than getting the disease” (“Vaccine Safety: The Facts,” 2016).
Additionally, a consensus report by The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies supports the safety of the current vaccination schedule. The Institute of Medicine seeks to provide “independent, objective, evidence-based advice” to the public and “uncovered no evidence of major safety concerns associated with adherence to the childhood immunization schedule” (Hinshaw, 2013). Furthermore, vaccines are shown to be incredibly effective. In fact, according to the AAP, “…depending on the study being cited, childhood vaccines are 85% to 98% effective” (“Do Immunizations Really Work?” 2015). Evidence favors the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, and such vaccines are imperative to our society because they safeguard us from incredibly dangerous diseases.
Vaccines were so successful at eradicating diseases that parents today do not understand their severity. According to executive director of Every Child By Two, Amy Pisani, “The immunization effort has, in some ways, been a victim of its own success because many of today’s parents have never experienced the infectious diseases that vaccines keep away” (as referenced in Lemons, 2016, p. 171). In the state of Arizona, children are required to receive the following types of vaccinations in order to attend public school: DTaP, Tdap, Td, Meningococcal, Hep B, IPV, MMR, Varicella, and, in Maricopa county, Hep A. These inoculations protect children from the following diseases: Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Meningococcal disease, Hepatitis B, Polio, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Chickenpox, and Hepatitis A (“Immunization Screening and Referral Form for School K-12th Grade,” 2016). Diphtheria, for example, “…can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis, and even death” (“14 Diseases You Almost Forgot about Thanks to Vaccines,” 2016). The CDC has found, should a child contract Diphtheria, the case-fatality rate is five to 10 percent, up to 20 percent for children under the age of five (“Diphtheria: Clinicians,” 2016). A parent’s decision not to vaccinate his or her child not only flies in the face of science, but also risks the child’s health and endangers the lives of others.
Obviously, parents have a civic duty to immunize their children to protect those who are unable to receive vaccinations. These people may be unable to be vaccinated because they are too young or have a compromised immune system. This reliance upon the greater population to be inoculated to prevent the spread of disease is called “herd immunity.” To maintain “herd immunity,” vaccination rates must be between 96 percent and 99 percent (Lemons, 2016, p. 172). When parents object to vaccinations, they put the “herd” at risk. They exchange the miniscule chance their child will have an adverse reaction to vaccines for the near certainty of illness and resulting complications for those unable to be vaccinated. As discussed earlier, these illnesses are very deadly, and those who cannot be vaccinated are at risk without “herd immunity.” One such example is Rhett Krawitt, a child with leukemia who cannot be vaccinated against measles and is completely reliant upon his classmates’ inoculations (Lemons, 2016, p. 172). With the best care and a healthy immune system, contractors of the measles virus have a one or two out of a thousand chance of dying (“Top 4 Things Parents Need to Know about Measles,” 2015). Therefore, vaccines are safe, effective, and a societal obligation.
Opponents of vaccinations argue vaccines are unsafe, and therefore, should not be required of children in order for them to attend public school. I concede that, yes, vaccines, like all medicine, carry a risk of complication. However, the risk of vaccines absolutely pales in comparison to the risk of contracting the diseases they protect from. The DTaP vaccine, for example, results in a serious allergic reaction in less than one out of a million doses (“Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis (DTaP) VIS,” 2016). Compare that with the aforementioned case-fatality rate of Diphtheria: up to 20 percent for children under the age of five (“Diphtheria: Clinicians,” 2016). The benefits of vaccination, statistically, far outweigh the risks of the vaccines themselves. Furthermore, the AAP states, “serious side effects are no more common than those from other types of medication such as antibiotics and fever reducers and pain relievers” (“Why Immunize Your Child,” 2015). Vaccines are no more dangerous than Tylenol from the local Walgreens. Vaccines not only carry a miniscule risk compared to the diseases one may contract without them, but they carry as much risk as over-the-counter medicine. Therefore, this is not an adequate argument against vaccinating children.
In response, the opposition may counter, as our President-elect thinks, that vaccines have been proven to cause autism. For this reason, anti-vaxers argue children should not be forced to receive vaccinations in order to attend public school. However, the research supporting this belief has been discredited. The commonly cited report in the 1998 Lancet by Andrew Wakefield that attributed the MMR vaccine as a cause of autism has been disproven, and Wakefield lost his medical license as a result. Editor in chief of the British Medical Journal, Dr. Fiona Godlee, said, “the MMR scare was based not on bad science but on deliberate fraud,” citing, “clear evidence of falsification of data” (as referenced in Lemons, 2016, p. 173-174). Unfortunately, many still hold erroneous beliefs based upon this faulty information and often succumb to the availability heuristic. The availability heuristic is an error in thinking in which one “…judges the probability of events by how quickly and easily examples can come to mind” (“Availability Heuristic,” n.d.). This is seen in a reliance on a friends’ testimonial instead of scientific consensus. For example, Jacklyn Smoot, a mother interviewed in Lemons’ report, states, “Right now, the people telling me their personal stories influence me more” (as referenced in Lemons, 2016, p. 173). Many parents, she says, “…tend to trust their own online research or the experiences of others more than they trust research conducted by the scientific and medical communities” (as referenced in Lemons, 2016, p. 173). While these parents have the most noble of intentions in protecting their children from harm, their sources are questionable if not outright proven incorrect and rely on errors in thinking. Again, this reason does not support their argument against mandated vaccinations for children wishing to attend public school.
Furthermore, parents often claim mandatory vaccines impinge on their parental rights as another reason why they should not be forced to vaccinate their children. However, these parents do not understand the full meaning behind their constitutional rights. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has upheld the constitutionality of mandated vaccines twice. First, in 1905, SCOTUS “…held that mandating smallpox vaccination was a reasonable exercise of the state’s police power under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution” (as referenced in Lemons, 2016, p. 174). Then, in 1922 with Zucht v. King, SCOTUS ruled that “…children could be barred from attending school if they didn’t get their vaccinations” (as referenced in Lemons, 2016, p. 174). Then, in 1944, SCOTUS affirmed the government’s ability to impede upon parental rights for the sake of the child’s well being (Lemons, 2016, p. 174). SCOTUS has ruled mandatory vaccinations are constitutional and, furthermore, parents’ rights to their religious or philosophical beliefs should not impede upon their child’s right to protection from deadly diseases.
The growing resistance against vaccinations is based on faulty beliefs and bad science. Unfortunately, this misinformation is pervasive in our country, evidenced by President-elect Trump’s statement implicating vaccinations as a cause of autism. We have a duty to seek out the truth for the protection of ourselves, our children, and humankind. The truth is: vaccines are safe, effective, imperative to safeguard from deadly infectious diseases, and they are a civic obligation. Yes, vaccinations should be required for children to attend school. I, too, value freedom of choice, but in regards to mandated vaccinations, I value the common good, public health, more.
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