When my grandfather was 16 years old, he got polio. He lost control of his muscles, and lived in an iron lung for several months. After that, he never regained control of his legs, and has been paralyzed ever since. And he was one of the lucky ones–he survived.
Thankfully, Jonas Salk developed a vaccine in 1952 to protect future families from experiencing this devastating disease. Since then, the worldwide occurrence of polio has gone down 99%. In the past 30 years, the United States has not had a single case of polio.
But that is changing, and that’s what concerns me. In a recent craze of faulty information and sensationalist gossip, a movement of parents against vaccinating their children–called “anti-vaxxers”–has entered the health scene. These pseudo-experts claim vaccines to be faulty concoctions of chemicals capable of “giving” their children any range of problems, most frequently reporting autism.
In addition to being invalid, these arguments are dangerous. In San Diego in 2008, an unvaccinated seven year old spread Measles to eleven classmates after a trip to Switzerland. Similar cases occurred in Columbus, Orange County, and New York City.
Unlike other health decisions, the choice to vaccinate has community-wide repercussions. It only takes one unvaccinated, vulnerable body to catch a disease, and suddenly an epidemic is on our hands. Not vaccinating is a life or death decision–for you and those around you.
Furthermore, an epidemiological phenomenon known as herd immunity has protected citizens since the dawn of vaccinations. The mathematically proven concept shows, that if a population is inoculated, the preventative effects will benefit those who cannot get vaccinated, like babies, pregnant women, or those with other chronic illnesses. However, if a critical mass of citizens who could be vaccinated aren’t (approximately 10% or more), the herd immunity is broken, and vulnerable members of the community will be effected. This was shown in 2012 in Washington, where, after being convinced by anti-vaxxers not to immunize their children, parents found their children, and other members of the community affected by Whooping Cough–spiraling into the “worst outbreak in 70 years.” So no, anti-vaxxer parents, it’s not just your kid you’re putting in danger.
In addition to losing the use of his legs, my grandfather lost classmates, friends, and siblings. We are fortunate to have the medical knowledge to prevent polio, and other diseases like it, from ravaging our communities again. When parents choose not to vaccinate their children, however, it is a blatant disrespect for those not afforded the opportunity to protect themselves.