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Number of American parents not vaccinating infants has quadrupled
A measles comeback is not the sort of return our children deserve.
- The percentage of children under 2 years old who haven't received any vaccinations has quadrupled in the last 17 years.
- In 2016 in Europe there were 5,273 cases of measles. One year later that jumped to 21,315 cases.
- Discredited doctor Andrew Wakefield's false study linking vaccines and autism still influences parents, two decades later.
Health care should be a public right today, especially in wealthy nations such as America, though for most of history such support systems were impossible. Social health initiatives are relatively new. Bureaucratic European states instituted such programs, but it was not until Germany introduced the "medical police" in the late 17th century that widespread programs started to take root. Johan Peter Frank helped construct the ideological underpinnings of this movement in a nine-volume series of books that took 48 years to write.
Frank was a champion of inoculation, the burgeoning practice of introducing small amounts of a disease — in this case, smallpox — into a person, which allowed their immune system build up defenses against a full-fledged ravaging virus. Inoculation itself dates back at least to ancient China; Frank was merely giving bureaucratic form to the formula.
By the middle of the 18th century, such inoculations were widespread, though an ignorance of proper dosage still lead to many deaths. While royalty and the wealthy were first in line, a physician named Edward Jenner brought it mainstream by injecting cowpox into a young boy who became immune to this ailment. Jenner called it a "vaccination," after the Latin word for "cow."
Decades later, the British Public Health Movement enforced compulsory vaccination. This led to an intense scrutiny of the major causes of disease, such as poverty, child labor, water supply, and prostitution. A linkage between our social environment and disease was forged. Public health reforms in Britain and America were instituted, with the World Health Organization being formed in 1948 to study and fight disease on a global scale.
Such efforts made a huge impact. Malaria was cut down in many countries. Perhaps the biggest victory was smallpox, whose last known case occurred in 1977. In May, 1980 the agency announced its extinction. Other chronic diseases have been greatly restricted: polio, measles, and tetanus are confined, while influenza, HPV, and chicken pox have been verified as ailments that vaccines minimize.
Then, in 1998, a now-discredited British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, was paid to falsify evidence linking the MMR vaccine and autism. The paper was eventually retracted. Yet it was published during a time when conspiracy theories were growing thanks to a new communications device called the internet. Rightfully-confused and upset parents were seeking a cause to the growing number of autistic children. Wakefield offered an answer, of sorts.
Problem is, that answer didn't address the question of making us healthier. Not only do vaccines not cause autism, the anti-vax movement that has grown from his deceptive paper is making us sicker. Last year in Minnesota the worst measles outbreak in generations occurred in a Somali population that received false information from an anti-vaxxer group. It's not only America: in 2016 in Europe there were 5,273 cases of measles. Due to anti-vaxxer fever, just one year later 21,315 people fell ill to a disease that has been successfully fought since 1960.
And now, this disturbing news was recently published regarding American children:
The percentage of children under 2 years old who haven't received any vaccinations has quadrupled in the last 17 years, according to federal health data released Thursday.
A medical worker injects a baby with a measles-rubella (MR) vaccine at a health station in Banda Aceh in Aceh province on September 19, 2018. Photo by CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN / AFP
The CDC notes that coverage was lowest among the uninsured and children covered under Medicaid. A free, federally-funded Vaccines For Children program exists, causing The Washington Post to speculate that at least part of this issue might be education.
Yet really, this entire debacle is indicative of a lack of education. Vaccine researcher Peter Hotez, whose daughter suffers from autism, has published a book detailing the issue, in which which he explains:
From my experience, a majority of vaccine-hesitant parents are not deeply dug in. They've gotten misinformation from anti-vaccine websites and social media, or they've heard something unsavory about vaccines from friends and relatives… Then there's another group, maybe 10 to 20 percent who are deeply dug in and believe all of the fake conspiracy theories. Those individuals are really difficult to reach.
For most of history, disease was ambiguous, random, metaphysical even — there is no dearth in literature relating sickness with gods and demons. It was long thought karma was the reason you fell ill or died. We know better today, yet too many people refuse to recognize this basic fact, placing their faith in biological mysticism. This is child abuse, yet sadly this is akin to smartphone addiction: we're simply not ready to label it as such on a societal scale.
Vaccine science is not perfect. Each year, the efficacy of the influenza vaccine is an educated guess. However, just because researchers haven't nailed every facet of disease does not mean we should write off the science. Millions of lives have been saved due to vaccines. Now, if current trends continues, millions more will be put at risk.
The majority of American children are vaccinated. I've heard complaints by a number of friends whose children are put on a rigorous schedule from birth; their skepticism of the validity of this approach is warranted. We should debate courses. We should not, however, debate basic science, such as vaccinating children for measles or polio. Parents putting their children at risk due to their own lack of common sense is not only unfair, it's dangerous.
Scientists use new methods to discover what's inside drug containers used by ancient Mayan people.
- Archaeologists used new methods to identify contents of Mayan drug containers.
- They were able to discover a non-tobacco plant that was mixed in by the smoking Mayans.
- The approach promises to open up new frontiers in the knowledge of substances ancient people consumed.
PARME staff archaeologists excavating a burial site at the Tamanache site, Mérida, Yucatan.
While not the first such minister, the loneliness epidemic in Japan will make this one the hardest working.
- The Japanese government has appointed a Minister of Loneliness to implement policies designed to fight isolation and lower suicide rates.
- They are the second country, after the U.K., to dedicate a cabinet member to the task.
- While Japan is famous for how its loneliness epidemic manifests, it isn't alone in having one.
The Ministry of Loneliness<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/I5FIohjZT8o" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p><a href="https://www.jimin.jp/english/profile/members/114749.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tetsushi Sakamoto</a>, already in the government as the minister in charge of raising Japan's low birthrate and revitalizing regional economies, was appointed this <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">month</a> to the additional role. He has already announced plans for an emergency national forum to discuss the issue and share the testimony of lonely <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/12/national/loneliness-isolation-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">individuals</a>.</p><p>Given the complexity of the problem, the minister will primarily oversee the coordination of efforts between different <a href="https://www.insider.com/japan-minister-of-loneliness-suicides-rise-pandemic-2021-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ministries</a> that hope to address the issue alongside a task <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">force</a>. He steps into his role not a moment too soon. The loneliness epidemic in Japan is uniquely well known around the world.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hikikomori" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Hikikomori</em></a><em>,</em> often translated as "acute social withdrawal," is the phenomenon of people completely withdrawing from society for months or years at a time and living as modern-day hermits. While cases exist in many <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00247/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>, the problem is better known and more prevalent in Japan. Estimates vary, but some suggest that one million Japanese live like this and that 1.5 million more are at <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/article/japan-hikikomori-isolation-society" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">risk</a> of developing the condition. Individuals practicing this hermitage often express contentment with their isolation at first before encountering severe symptoms of loneliness and <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200110155241.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">distress</a>.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodokushi" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Kodokushi</em></a>, the phenomenon of the elderly dying alone and remaining undiscovered for some time due to their isolation, is also a widespread issue in Japan that has attracted national attention for decades.</p><p>These are just the most shocking elements of the loneliness crisis. As we've discussed before, loneliness can cause health issues akin to <a href="https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/americas-loneliness-epidemic-is-more-lethal-than-smoking-heres-what-you-can-do-to-combat-isolation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">smoking</a>. A lack of interaction within a community can cause social <a href="https://bigthink.com/in-their-own-words/how-religious-neighbors-are-better-neighbors" target="_self">problems</a>. It is even associated with changes in the <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/loneliness-brain" target="_self">brain</a>. While there is nothing wrong with wanting a little time to yourself, the inability to get the socialization that many people need is a real problem with real <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/brain-loneliness-hunger" target="_self">consequences</a>.</p>
The virus that broke the camel's back<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Hp-L844-5k8" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> A global loneliness pandemic existed before COVID-19, and the two working in tandem has been catastrophic. </p><p>Japanese society has always placed a value on solitude, often associating it with self-reliance, which makes dealing with the problem of excessive solitude more difficult. Before the pandemic, 16.1 percent of Japanese seniors reported having nobody to turn to in a time of need, the highest rate of any nation <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">considered</a>. Seventeen percent of Japanese men surveyed in 2005 said that they "rarely or never spend time with friends, colleagues, or others in social groups." This was three times the average rate of other <a href="http://www.oecd.org/sdd/37964677.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>. </p><p>American individualism also creates a fertile environment for isolation to grow. About a month before the pandemic started, nearly<a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/01/23/798676465/most-americans-are-lonely-and-our-workplace-culture-may-not-be-helping" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> 3 in 5</a> Americans reported being lonely in a <a href="https://www.cigna.com/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/combatting-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> issued by Cigna. This is a slight increase over previous studies, which had been pointing in the same direction for years. </p><p>In the United Kingdom, the problem prompted the creation of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. The commission's <a href="https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/reports-and-briefings/active-communities/rb_dec17_jocox_commission_finalreport.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">final report </a>paints a stark picture of the U.K.'s situation in 2017, with millions of people from all parts of British society reporting feeling regular loneliness at a tremendous cost to personal health, society, and the economy.</p><p>The report called for a lead minister to address the problem at the national level, incorporating government action with the insights provided by volunteer organizations, businesses, the NHS, and other organizations on the crisis's front lines. Her Majesty's Government acted on the report and appointed the first Minister for Loneliness in <a href="https://time.com/5248016/tracey-crouch-uk-loneliness-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2018</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracey_Crouch" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tracey Crouch</a>, and dedicated millions of pounds to battling the problem. </p><p>The distancing procedures necessitated by the COVID-19 epidemic saved many lives but exacerbated an existing problem of loneliness in many parts of the world. While the issue had received attention before, Japan's steps to address the situation suggest that people are now willing to treat it with the seriousness it deserves.</p><p>--</p><p><em>If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. The suicide prevention hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.</em></p>
MIT professor Azra Akšamija creates works of cultural resilience in the face of social conflict.