One year ago Denver Post reporter Michael Booth found that nearly half of children in the United States are under-vaccinated. A massive study of 320,000 children ages two to seven also revealed that the number of parents refusing or waiting to vaccinate their children has steadily increased since 2004.
Booth was featured on a recent episode of On Point Radio, discussing Colorado's recent pushback against the anti-vaccine movement. The state is particularly interested in the parents of children who are refusing vaccinations for whooping cough and measles, two diseases thought to have been conquered though have recently seen a disturbing uptick—Booth reports that 5-6% of children are coming into school without proper vaccinations.
When mentioning vaccinations, first to mind is often the controversy over their role in causing autism, as most famously declared by Andrew Wakefield. Booth notes that his work has been discredited time and again, although doctors often hear it used as an excuse as to why parents still refuse to vaccinate.
During the show, On Point host Tom Ashbrook points out the myriad reasons that parents are opting out. While there is certainly an argument for over-vaccination, the most disturbing trend is not receiving the shots for religious reasons.
Twenty-one members of the Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, Texas were infected with measles last year, a disease that was thought to have been eliminated in the United States over a decade ago. In 2010, founder Kenneth Copeland spoke out against vaccinations.
You don't take the word of the guy that's trying to give the shot about what's good and what isn't.
His sentiment that God is the only one who makes such a decision is shared by his daughter, Terri, currently the church's pastor.
So I'm going to tell you what the facts are, and the facts are the facts, but then we know the truth. That always overcomes facts.
Eventually, notes Ashbrook, Terri said her church would offer vaccinations. Yet she added that if the parishioners do not 'have faith' in the process, they should follow their beliefs more than anything else.
As Paul Offit, chief of the division of infectious diseases and the director of the vaccine education center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, notes, there were 200 cases of the measles across the country in 2013. This is much lower than the 4-5 million cases annually reported before immunizations began, but the fact that any are occurring is troublesome.
Offit notes that while no deaths occurred from measles last year, it might take 600 cases for that to happen, which unfortunately might be what it takes to get people back into the doctor's office again.
Thus an interesting paradigm has emerged. While a portion of our society is paranoid about germs, you have a growing contingent of people convinced that 'we need to build our natural immunities through exposure,' opting out of vaccinations and hand sanitizers, for example.
This last trend was put to the test in 2005 by the US Army, a known breeding ground for germs. Over a thirteen-week period, two test battalions were used in seeing the effectiveness of Purell. The results were 40% less respiratory illness, 48% less gastrointestinal illness and 44% less lost training time. The military became one of Purell's biggest customers and has seen remarkable results, as have hospitals and doctors who make use of such products, as noted by Atul Gawande.
This is where feelings and fact clash. The anti-vaccine movement makes sound arguments: too many drugs might very well cause more harm than good. Yet, when it comes to reliable vaccinations like those for measles, the cost is too high to throw ourselves back decades.
Like most mindsets that oppose regulations, the anti-vaccine movement is fueled by the dislike of a failed health care system that too often is filled with doctors prescribing pills instead of taking a holistic approach to health, combined with a growing distrust of our government and its overall effectiveness.
It is healthy to question sanctions from on high. Justifying not getting vaccinated based on feelings or faith is not healthy, however. Allowing children to become infected with preventable diseases based on bunk science or, worse, believing a deity knows more about medicine than your doctor, is simply, and tragically, ignorant.