In the first few months of 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 555 cases of measles in the United States, which is already a substantial increase over the 372 recorded cases in the entirety of 2018. At one point, New York alone saw an increase of 30 cases in the course of two days. Even worse, according to the CDC this is part of an accelerating trend. So why is this preventable disease, which was eliminated from the United States in the year 2000, coming back? Measles and other preventable diseases, which were previously thought to be eliminated, are re-emerging due to a growing trend of parents not vaccinating their children. This trend is ignorant and extremely dangerous, and it must be reversed. The fact of the matter is that there is no good reason for anyone who is able to get vaccinated not to, and those who refuse to do so are acting dangerously irresponsible and are a menace to the rest of society.
The specific reasons given by those who oppose vaccination aren’t worth giving much thought to, but they generally revolve around the proven falsehood that vaccines are harmful to children. The most common belief is that vaccines cause autism. Putting aside the disgusting implication that these parents would rather see their children get sick and die rather than have autism, this claim is absolutely false. The claim is based on a fraudulent study which was never replicated and has been debunked many times. To devote more words to discussing the ludicrous and unscientific beliefs that fuel anti-vaccination movements would be quite unnecessary. There is an abundance of information put out by people far more qualified than myself which thoroughly debunk such claims, and anyone who is remotely scientifically literate and actually interested in finding the truth should be well aware that vaccines are not only harmless but extremely beneficial. These movements, however, are not based in science or rationality, but rather in anti-intellectualism and conspiratorial thinking, and like both of those trends, pose a serious threat to humanity.
Some might argue that those who choose not to vaccinate are harming only themselves, and thus ought to be allowed to make the choice for themselves. Even if the first point were true, should parents really be allowed to withhold life-saving medicine from children far too young to make their own medical decisions? Such a thing is no better than a parent withholding food or water from their children. Furthermore, when people refuse to vaccinate, it harms us all. The important concept to keep in mind is herd immunity: we are all safest from a disease when as many people as possible are resistant to it. We become safest from a disease when it’s completely eradicated, and that can only happen when there are no people that the disease can infect. So long as these diseases continue to exist in anyone, they are able to potentially mutate to the point that other people who were previously immune might become threatened again. Furthermore, herd immunity ensures the safety of people who are more susceptible to disease, such as the very young or the very old, or people with rare conditions that leave them vulnerable. If people who can vaccinate do not, then they are putting us all at risk. The right of an individual to make their own medical choices is drastically diminished when those choices risk the lives of others.
These diseases are a serious matter; the CDC estimates that the measles vaccine alone prevented 20.4 million deaths between 2000 and 2016. Parents no longer have the right not to vaccinate their children than they do to drive while drunk; it’s reckless and irresponsible, and if it continues people will get hurt. Fortunately New York has already issued mandatory vaccination orders, a step which will hopefully be taken up by other affected areas. Ideally we as a species can put this nonsense behind us in short order, but for now we will need to treat it like any other kind of reckless negligence and respond accordingly.