“Anti-vaxxers” and the right to stay healthy

by Alexandra tollefson

tollefsoal@mnstate.edu

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you’ll know that back in January, California’s Disneyland theme park had an outbreak of measles. By the end of the month, there were more than 59 reported cases of the disease. Now, it’s spreading.

As of Feb. 6, according to CNN, there were 121 cases spanning 17 states, including Minnesota and South Dakota. This disease, while highly contagious, was thought to have been eliminated in the U.S. back in 2000, thanks to the vaccine that was developed to prevent it. Most of us have already been vaccinated; our parents or guardians brought us to the doctor when we were kiddos, and one quick shot later, our lives were considerably safer. However, this recent outbreak has brought to light the fact that not all of us got the shot — and neither have all the kids of today.

They’re called “anti-vaxxers,” the people who choose, as is their right, to abstain their children from receiving vaccines. This is how the measles virus was able to spread: one non-immune host, and it has a second shot at causing terror. So, the question raised is whether or not anti-vaxxers are posing a danger to themselves and those around them by not getting vaccinated like the rest of us.

I think it’s important to understand that anti-vaxxers have their reasons. Some may be more solid than others, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to understand them. The most well-known reason is the famous “vaccines cause autism” argument. However, this argument has repeatedly been proven false. Unfortunately, the seed of distrust in vaccines has been planted, and some people have never looked at them the same way again.

While autism is not one of the side effects of vaccines, that doesn’t mean they are completely without risk. One in a million children has a life-threatening allergic reaction to vaccines. The CDC reports that pneumonia can still be caused by the chickenpox vaccine, and the vaccine for tetanus can cause permanent brain damage. The chances of any of these happening are slim, but you never know if your kid will be that unlucky patient.

Other people simply believe that natural immunity is more effective than vaccines. That’s why you hear about “measles parties” going on in California. One kid gets sick, and other anti-vaxxer parents bring their children over so they can be exposed and build up a natural resistance. 

Then there’s the mistrust of vaccine companies, which stand to make a profit from selling them. Since many vaccine companies have close ties with the CDC, it isn’t completely unreasonable to think the whole thing is just one big market ploy to earn an extra buck.

But do the risks outweigh the benefits?

The bottom line is that not getting vaccinated can have just as many ill effects as getting vaccinated.

For starters, it puts those around you at a greater risk of getting sick, too. This is the idea of “herd immunity.” There are those who cannot be vaccinated, regardless of their personal choice, due to age, poor health or other reasons. These people rely on the health of the “herd” to keep them safe from things like measles.

Furthermore, it makes more fiscal sense to keep the “herd” vaccinated. The CDC estimates that “children vaccinated between 1994 and 2014 have yielded net savings of $1.38 trillion in societal costs, including money saved by preventing lost productivity due to disability and early death.”

Mothers who get vaccinated also are less likely to have children with birth defects. When everyone (or at least close to everyone) gets vaccinated, entire diseases can be nearly, if not entirely, eradicated.  But all it takes is one case to bring those diseases back.

So is it worth the risk or not? While the chances of having any adverse side effects caused by a vaccine are slim, they do still exist. And who knows? Maybe it really is just one huge scam for a handful of executives to line their pockets. Still, I’m going to take my chances. When my time comes, despite a hefty fear of needles, I will do my duty to the “herd” and get my vaccine.

Whether or not you do, the choice is your right to make as an American citizen.

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