The parents who are against vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella and other childhood diseases have proved a point — and it’s a scary one. They are no longer just putting their own kids at risk. By taking their unvaccinated children to the happiest place on Earth and touching off a measles outbreak at Disneyland, the anti-vaxxers put hundreds of other children in jeopardy, too.
Measles on this level hasn’t been seen in the States since the 1970s. So far, the disease has spread to 11 states and Mexico, infecting about 70 people in less than a month. Also making a comeback: whooping cough and diphtheria.
Bravo, anti-vaxxers. You’ve gone beyond sowing post-Super Bowl fear in 2012, when 14 people were infected with the measles after unvaccinated kids visited Super Bowl Village in Indianapolis. Now you’ve tainted Disneyland, too.
Maybe this is all a stealthy attack on the mainstream stuff that some of the organic, cage-free, Buddha-mama, mindful-parenting philosophies shun? Is a mac-and-cheese factory next? An orchestrated sneezing attack on every McDonald’s? Diphtheria for every child in the Chuck E. Cheese’s ball pit?
This didn’t have to happen. In 2004, there were just 37 measles cases in the United States. Ten years later? We saw 644, according to Pediatrics, the medical journal.
It’s all about fashionable philosophy, not changes in medicine.
The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine wigs out some parents because about a decade ago, people started to assert a link between immunization and autism, fueled by the studies of a now-disgraced British doctor, Andrew Wakefield. Problem was, study after study refuted Wakefield’s autism research. And in 2011, the British medical establishment withdrew its endorsement of Wakefield’s study and labeled his data bogus.
Still, the movement persisted, fueled by folks like actress Jenny McCarthy.
When I interviewed health officials in 2011, when the anti-vaxxer movement began to take hold, they said people like McCarthy were the bane of their education programs.
One health-policy professor joked that they would have to compete with something like “CDC Barbie.”
There are few cases in which doctors have decided that a child would not do well medically by being immunized.
Some religions are against vaccinations, too. For those people, schools allow exemptions so that children can attend school at their own risk.
But in thousands of schools nationwide, a third category has been added — a “philosophical” exemption from the vaccination requirement. The parents of about 3 percent of children in the United States have claimed that exemption, declaring themselves opposed to vaccinations.
An additional 7 or 8 percent are disorganized, do-nothing parents who would rather take the easy out than go through the pain and effort of appointments, needle-sticks and paperwork. So about 10 percent of U.S. schoolchildren aren’t vaccinated against the diseases that once killed millions.
Infants who accompany families and older siblings, people too sick to be immunized or those who come from countries where they weren’t vaccinated got the measles simply by being in a spot where a measles-infected person sneezed two hours earlier.
Now the problem gets to the part where you bring up that quote about your rights ending where mine begin.
Whatever wackadoodle philosophy you might be embracing today — frutarianism or Bokononism — is cool as long as it doesn’t hurt those around you, right?
Refusing to immunize puts the rest of us at risk. And unless there is sound science and the guidance of a good doctor, it’s a pretty bogus way to hedge a bet in that game of parenting roulette.
Raising a child is a huge exercise in trust. Parents learn to trust a babysitter, a day care, a school, a coach. You’ve got to learn to trust the kids and their own, cockamamie judgment.
The anti-vaxxer movement is being fueled by parents who refuse to trust government, big pharma, family physicians and decades of sound science.
Those parents who won’t vaccinate their kids all took huge risks when they visited Disneyland — buckling their children into cars for the drive there, even though car accidents injure 300 children and kill three kids in America every day. They trusted that the drivers next to them would check before changing lanes, that the drivers behind them weren’t texting, that the ones merging from an on-ramp weren’t drunk.
That’s a lot of trust they put in the way others kept their kids safe.
Too bad the rest of the parents in Disneyland on the day they visited trusted them.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.