Anti-Vaxxers gain momentum

Grace Walker, Staff Writer

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In recent years, a flood of new beliefs has thrown the world a new curveball: parents who chose not to vaccinate their children. Those involved in the movement have been dubbed anti-vaxxers. These parents are fighting for the right to not have their children vaccinated against infectious diseases. The World Health Organization has named vaccination hesitancy as one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019. Vaccination currently prevents an estimated two to three million deaths a year. The WHO estimates that an additional 1.5 million lives could be saved if the anti-vax movement was put to an end.

Measles was nowhere near the list of modern lethal diseases, but it has re-emerged in recent years after near complete elimination, and the world has a fall in vaccination rates to thank. Measles cases in Europe last year exceeded 82,000 with 72 subsequent deaths. That total is three times higher than in 2017. The number of US cases thus far in 2019 is already 72% of the total for the entirety of 2018. The WHO claims that the ideal target is a 95% vaccination rate for the dozen diseases for which a safe and inexpensive childhood vaccine is available. Few countries today have reached that rate, which experts say is required for herd immunity. Herd immunity is defined as too few people infected with a disease to cause a spread across a population.

US vaccination policies are left to the states. Each state has a different law concerning requirements for vaccinating children, and they vary widely across all fifty states. A handful of states allow people to claim religious exemption. However, no modern religion prohibits the administration of vaccinations. The US is working hard to diminish the anti-vax issue. Doctors claim the only instance in which a child should be exempt from vaccination is if they have a defective immune system, which would cause the risk of infection to spike. However, besides tightly enforcing vaccination laws related to school entry, there are not many tactics to diminishing the problem across the nation since the power is left to the states. One solution lies in social media, where YouTube and Facebook have agreed to remove their advertisements from websites that cross medically acceptable boundaries.

Jill Promoli, who lives outside Toronto, started a flu prevention campaign after losing her toddler son Jude to the flu in 2016. Not long after the creation of this campaign did she start to receive negative messages from the anti-vaccination community. These messages accused her of murdering her son and making up a story about the flu to cover up the crime, while others blamed the flu vaccine for Jude’s death. The most extreme messages, that Promoli says gave her nightmares, accused her of advocating for the flu vaccine to kill other parents’ children so they could be as miserable as she was. She believes she is trying to be silenced by anti-vaxxers because she is among the people who have strongest argument for mandatory vaccination. However, she will not back down because of hundreds of harsh Facebook comments. “The work that we’re doing might mean that somebody else doesn’t have to go plan a funeral for their toddler, and that is everything.”

Catherine and Greg Hughes, a couple from Australia, lost their one month old son, Riley, to whooping cough. Prior to his death, they had relied on herd immunity to keep their child save until he was old enough to be vaccinated. However, Perth has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the world. Riley’s young age did not prevent anti-vaxxers from coming for the Hughes family. “Riley’s death was a very inconvenient truth for anti-vaccine activists…The nasty messages started 24 hours after he died. They called us baby killers and said we would have the blood of other babies on our hands. We’ve been told to kill ourselves.”

Larry Cook is the founder of Stop Mandatory Vaccination. In an email to CNN, Cook did not deny that the harsh commenting takes place and has occurred on multiple occasions. He wrote that members of his group make more than half million comments on the Facebook page every month. He said he did not condone the behavior, yet also stated that there could be backlash expected against those who chose to vaccinate their children or argue for mandatory vaccination. “Anyone who deliberately engage[s] in the politics of advocating for compulsory vaccination where children may be further damaged through government vaccine mandates can expect push back and resistance, alongside knowledgeable discussions about vaccine risk in social media commentary.”

At a public commentary hosted by the CDC on the importance of vaccinations, many people voiced their hesitations about vaccinating their children. Riley Cherry said her son developed autism as a result of vaccines. “We owe it to our children to truly look at the long term effects of vaccines and be honest about what could happen to our children.” This statement, however shocking it may be, cannot possibly be true. More than a dozen studies have shown that vaccines do not cause autism. Autism Spectrum Disorder is a genetic disorder that cannot be developed over time or caused by any one thing after birth. People who are afflicted with autism are born with it, although symptoms may not appear and a diagnosis may not occur until they are a few years old. The belief that vaccinations cause autism, however false it may be, is a driving force behind the anti-vaccination movement. The American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a statement on this topic to put anti-vaccination parents’ minds at ease. “Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are effective. Vaccines save lives.”

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