Anti-vaxxers seem to have recently risen from the ashes of misinformation campaigns, and their voices are seemingly louder now than ever before. They refuse to vaccinate their children and are often regarded as evil, uneducated individuals who could not possibly want the best for their children. Some may indeed be like that. But the majority of anti-vaxxers are confused about vaccinations, and to keep their children ‘safe’, they opt out. The majority of anti-vaxxers fear there may be a link between vaccinations and autism, and they refuse to gamble with the development of their child. Besides the link not having any solid scientific proof, it also highlights the ableism that is involved behind these decisions — parents are actively arguing that they would prefer a dead child over a child with autism. But anti-vaxxers aren’t just focused on autism and vaccinations — they also think ingredients in vaccines are toxic, citing concerns such as too many metals in injections.
Lately, it seems as though this movement has been becoming even stronger, with the voices of anti-vaxxers becoming louder as their numbers increase. To people outside the movement, the anti-vax movement makes little to no sense — vaccines have eradicated diseases that used to wipe out populations, and they have been lifesavers for countless individuals. So it feels counterintuitive to reject a generally accepted safety practice when we are living in the 21st century. And the surreal part is that the real victims of this movement, the children, do not get a say. Parents have the ultimate decision making power, and if they refuse vaccinations, no matter how much the child might benefit from them, the children cannot legally get them. And this has led to severe outbreaks of mostly eradicated diseases, such as measles.
Recently, a severe measles outbreak occurred in New York, and lawmakers have decided to step up and do something about it. According to the New York Times, lawmakers are trying to get a bill passed that allows fourteen-year-olds to get their shots without parental consent, in an attempt to slow down the outbreak crisis. And this is the kind of legislation we should be moving towards. We can’t keep letting children live eighteen years without the right to vaccination, thereby endangering their right to life.
We have a duty to protect the vulnerable, and while granting vaccination rights to kids fourteen and older is a start, we must make these life-saving vaccinations mandatory. Of course there would have to be versions of vaccines created for those with allergies, and they should be affordable for all. But those details are part of the process we would have to undergo in order to make them mandatory. We have to shift our focus from claims of the dangers of vaccination, which have no kind of root in real science, and instead ensure that children are able to fully access their healthcare and maintain their right to a healthy life.
The anti-vax movement stems from a massive campaign of misinformation that started at the same time as the creation of vaccinations in the early 1800s. By the time the UK established the Vaccination Act of 1853, which made it illegal to refuse vaccines for infants, citizens were openly protesting. They argued the law went too far and took away their rights to make decisions about their children’s health, but as time went on and the positive effects of vaccinations became obvious and protests decreased. But some people hung on to the anti-vax belief in the UK, and later spread to the US through British anti-vaxxers campaigning in America. Most recently, the anti-vaxxers have exploded in numbers as social media posts went viral. There are now thousands, if not millions, of parents who refuse vaccinations on behalf of their children due to the danger of them ‘getting’ autism, a claim with no scientific backing.
One doctor, Andrew Wakefield, in the last part of the 20th century, published a scientific study that claimed vaccinations were strongly linked to cases of autism. Some concerned parents picked this up and chose to run with it, probably without actually reading the paper. The doctor only bothered to study twelve individuals and had no control group, to name a few of the issues with his ‘experiment.’ He was actually stripped of his scientific titles after this paper, due to unethical behaviour, misconduct and dishonesty, but this didn’t stop him from trying to spread his research globally. And somehow, the parents that stand by his research haven’t bothered to look into it enough to understand the extent to which does not stand. But I don’t want to focus on the unsubstantiated link of vaccines and autism today — I want to focus on the rights of the children who are not getting the full span of their healthcare because of their parents.
We as a society, and the government specifically, have a duty to defend those who are incapable of defending themselves. But the children who are not legally allowed to vaccinate themselves against deadly disease, or those with dangerous illnesses, or those on immunosuppressants are not being protected to the same degree. Children should not be subjugated to endangering their lives because their parents read a few articles and think they know better than doctors. If anything, children should be legally forced to be vaccinated, to protect not only themselves but those around them. A choice should not be made readily available, especially if people are not being educated correctly about the vast number of benefits vaccinations actually deliver.
Worldwide, vaccines actively prevent 2-3 million deaths a year. According to the World Health Organization, vaccination is cost effective, because it gets to the root of the problem before the problem even begins, and if worldwide vaccinations were more accessible, another 1.5 million lives could be saved. In December 2010, the Meningitis A vaccine was introduced in Africa, and since then, the Men A epidemic has been nearly eradicated. Measles, which is a highly contagious virus, has declined by 84 percent globally through the use of vaccines. Polio, a disease that was once extremely widespread, is now almost completely eradicated, thanks to vaccines, with only three countries still experiencing high rates. Clearly, the health and economic benefits of vaccines are many.
Besides the children who are not themselves getting vaccinated, any vulnerable individuals who live or exist near them and are not able to get their shots are placed at a higher risk for diseases. People who have cancer, or any number of other illnesses, are not able to get vaccinated with a regular schedule, or at all, so they must rely on their classmates and friends to get vaccinated to create that barrier for them. These children whose parents want the best for them, who want them to be happy and healthy, are then being placed at an even higher risk of contracting another deadly illness.
Lawmakers do have a responsibility. They have a responsibility to protect these vulnerable people and can do so by implementing legislation that gives children more direct rights to their own bodies. As of right now, they are severely limited. These children must be protected, even if it means going against the wishes of their parents. Anti-vaxxers often base their claims on faulty scientific evidence, impose their demands on their children, who in turn are forced to suffer the consequences. And we cannot stand idly by and allow this to happen — it is time to make sure the children get their shots.