The debate regarding vaccinations has existed since vaccines were first invented, with one side arguing the dangers of the act itself and the other, the consequences. Vaccines are, arguably, the greatest public health achievement in the history of mankind, and has helped prevent a multitude of diseases, including but not limited to polio, diphtheria, pertussis, rubella, and mumps, all of which previously wiped out thousands upon thousands of lives at a time. However, anti-vaccination sentiments are quickly rising in the United States, largely due to the apparent links between immunizations and autism which have been reinforced by the Internet, with dozens of sites publishing articles about the alarming dangers of vaccinations.
Vaccines work by injecting dead or weakened antigens that do not contain infections into the immune system in order to alert it to produce antibodies to fight the disease. Invented first in 1796, it has since become a norm in the United States to be vaccinated, and many people can attribute their health to the invention. But while the choice to receive vaccinations remains a decision entirely up to an individual, people have taken it as far as refusing to vaccinate their own kids. And that is where the ultimate problem lies.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been 971 known cases of measles in America so far in 2019. The number of measles cases is eight more than the total number of cases in all of 1992, which was the former highest number of outbreaks in the US since vaccines were introduced. Measles is highly contagious, and it can cause severe respiratory symptoms, fevers, rashes, deafness, or even encephalitis, or brain inflammation, in some cases. However, Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of CDC, states in response to the New York Times that, “Measles is preventable and the way to end this outbreak is to ensure that all children and adults who can get vaccinated, do get vaccinated”.
He also added, “Again, I want to reassure parents that vaccines are safe, they do not cause autism. The greater danger is the disease that vaccination prevents.” Vaccinations also help stabilize entire communities because it prevents those who cannot be immunized, like infants or people with medical reasons, from contracting the disease.
Measles is just one of the more recognized recent disease outbreaks among many others, which include deadly diseases such as whooping cough, mumps, meningococcal disease, influenza, HPV, and Hepatitis A. Although the number of deaths has been significantly reduced over the years, whooping cough once killed about 9,000 people in the US each year, and 80,000 Americans died of the flu in the winter of 2017, the highest death toll in around 40 years.
Continuation of the refusal to vaccinate one’s kids can result in further outbreaks of any vaccine-preventable disease, however, it would also ruin the herd immunity we have worked hard to achieve throughout centuries. If this layer of societal protection against diseases were to be removed, there is no telling just how many more outbreaks, infections, and even deaths our society would have to face.
The United States guarantees its citizens certain rights and freedoms that not even public health concerns can take away, like the right to choose whether or not to be vaccinated. But we need to consider the effects of our actions, especially if it’s derived from ignorance or misinformation before it starts affecting innocent people around us. For a safer community, we need to start vaccinating our youth and taking more measures to ensure that we maintain our public health in good condition.
Joyce Kim, Grade 9
La Canada High School