Childhood diseases can be a frightening topic, especially when we are seeing the re-emergence of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and whooping-cough. There have been at least 129 measles cases from 13 states that have been reported in the U.S. in 2014, the highest number since 1996, according to the CDC. In recent years, many studies have sought to find a link between these re-emerging diseases and an increased prevalence of parents “opting out” of vaccinating their children.
In 2013, the U.S. had the second-highest number of measles cases it has seen in 20 years. Contributing to these numbers was an outbreak of 58 cases in a Brooklyn community. According to an article from New York Magazine back in 2011, despite some of the nation’s most stringent vaccine regulations, a surprisingly-high number of NYC schools boasted less-than-ideal vaccination rates. A vaccination rate of 95% is considered necessary to maintain herd immunity, a benchmark that over 200 schools surveyed fell short of.
Recently an outbreak in mumps cases originating from Ohio State University had been making news. According to Reuters there have been 116 cases of mumps in the outbreak, 93 of which occurred in OSU students, their relatives, or staff members at the school. Four people have been hospitalized as a result of the outbreak. A Columbus health department spokesperson, Jose Rodriguez, stated that at least three infected people are confirmed as not having received vaccinations for mumps. Four people have been hospitalized as a result of the outbreak. A Columbus health department spokesperson, Jose Rodriguez, stated that at least three infected people are confirmed as not having received vaccinations for mumps.
“If even one person is unvaccinated we are all at risk,” said Rodriguez.
So why are parents opting out on vaccinations for their kids? As has been widely reported in the media, there has been a recent rash of fear in the US that vaccinations could cause autism. One vaccine ingredient that has been questioned and studied is thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that prevents the growth of bacteria and fungi and was once widely used in recommended childhood vaccines. Evidence from several studies examining trends in vaccine use and changes in autism frequency does not support an association between thimerosal and autism. A scientific review by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that “the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal–containing vaccines and autism.” Even so, in 2001 thimerosal was removed or reduced to trace amounts in all childhood vaccines except for one type of influenza vaccine, and thimerosal-free alternatives for that vaccine are available.
A post on the CDC’s website shows us where they stand on the matter. Recent estimates from the CDC’s Autism Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network found that about 1 in 68 children born in 2002 had an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This estimate is higher than estimates from the early 1990s, so the numbers are in fact increasing. When it comes to thimerosal, though, the CDC supports the IOM conclusion that there is no relationship between vaccines containing thimerosal and autism rates in children.
A few recent articles have also suggested that the lower numbers of vaccinations in the West could be causing preventable diseases to spread not only in the US, but also in the third world. One such article in The Guardian states, “Even the unvaccinated children of anti-vaxxers have a pretty good chance of never contracting the diseases for which they eschew the shots—because of the herd immunity brought on by the same vaccines these adults opposed. That’s a luxury not afforded to parents and children in much of the world.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vaccination prevents between two and three million deaths every year. In addition to protecting those who are immunized, vaccines also protect infants too small for vaccinations, immune-compromised individuals such as those undergoing certain cancer treatments, and those who are resistant to immunizations.