Palma: Sensitivity, ignorance fuel anti-vaccination fears

Disease is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind idea. We don’t fear an outbreak of polio or smallpox in the United States because they’re such rare occurrences in our country. This sense of ease, however, has been shattered with the recent measles outbreak in Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

The outbreak has sparked a national debate of the necessity of vaccinations and has caused some parents to frantically contact their pediatricians for advice. The fact is that vaccinations are necessary precautions that have dramatically decreased the proliferation of disease. Vaccinations are not as recent as one would expect, however. The Chinese began testing vaccinations against smallpox as early as 1,000 AD. Edward Jenner created the first vaccination reminiscent of the inoculations of today in 1796, thus eradicating smallpox.

Opponents of mandatory vaccinations believe that our bodies’ immune systems can naturally fight off these diseases. Unfortunately, figures prove otherwise. There were a total of 2,525 paralytic cases of polio in 1960 before the oral polio vaccine was introduced in 1961. By 1965, there were only 61 recorded cases. These numbers continued to decrease until the disease became almost nonexistent in our country.

There is also the concern that vaccinations have dangerous side effects such as seizures, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or autism. Andrew Wakefield’s infamous study linking the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine with autism published in 1998 exacerbated these fears, despite being later discredited. After causing widespread panic, the study went under investigation and 10 of the 12 authors released a retraction in 2004. They stated that the data was insufficient to support their claim. In 2011, Wakefield was stripped of his medical license for “[abusing] his position of power” and “[bringing] the medical profession into disrepute.”

State laws require that children enrolled in public schools be vaccinated against certain diseases such as chicken pox, measles and polio, although there is an exception for religious reasons. The goal of the initiative is to create herd immunity, where a high percentage of the members in a community are immunized from a particular disease. This creates an environment that protects those with compromised immune systems from certain afflictions. This is a very efficient method for preventing illness and decreases medical costs within the community.

It’s suspected that the measles outbreak in Disneyland was caused by a foreigner and spread to those in the park who had not received vaccinations. The public school initiative has taken great steps to protecting the citizens of the U.S against disease, but recent events have proven that it’s not enough.

The danger of disease still exists and it remains an issue that people need to address. There may have been some cases of negative side effects resulting from vaccinations, but the positive effects outweigh the negative. It’s important to remember the danger these diseases can pose, even if they may not be a present issue. Out of sight cannot mean out of mind.