Taking a long shot: How vaccines are saving lives, not endangering them


With the recent measles outbreak spreading across the nation, the unprecedented lack of vaccinated individuals has fuelled the issue.

The controversial debate over whether or not vaccines are safe is sparking much discussion from both sides. The current measles outbreak that began in December originated from Anaheim’s Disneyland Resort with over 100 cases being linked to the area so far.

The MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine was introduced in 1963 after five years of testing. According to cdc.gov, it has an effectiveness rate of 94 percent. Due to the prolific use of the vaccine and a movement by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to eliminate measles in the 1970s, measles cases fell from around 450,000 in 1962 to less than 100 by the late 1990s. As a result, the disease was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000. An “eradicated” disease is defined by the CDC as one which is no longer continually present in the U.S. However, there were 644 new cases in 2014.

The current vaccination rate in California is 90.7 percent; according to bloombergnews.com, it is even lower in certain regions, such as Orange County, where the outbreak started. This is not only California’s problem—26 states reported vaccination rates for the MMR vaccine to be below the target threshold of 95 percent in 2013, according to cnn.com.

Therein the problem lies. Many parents continue to cling to the belief that the chemicals inside vaccines are responsible for a host of medical problems, including autism. Parents’ concerns are understandable, as they simply want the best choices for their children. However, there is no evidence that vaccines cause any danger. A 2014 study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) involving over 1.5 million children found no correlation between vaccines and autism. One of the major concerns is due to the mercury-containing compound thiomersal in vaccines. However, thiomersal is only used in the influenza vaccine, and then in extremely small, harmless quantities used to preserve the vaccine.

While the current outbreak is not yet a major epidemic, it is affecting the majority of the population’s most vulnerable groups. Among those who cannot get vaccinated are children under the age of 1 and children with weakened immune systems. Many parents also choose to not vaccinate their children due to personal beliefs. There are 47 states with religious exemptions, while 19 states, including California, have philosophical exemptions.

Carl Krawitt of Marin County lives in a region that has one of the highest “personal belief exemptions” in the state. For Krawitt, the fight to make vaccines mandatory for all children attending his local schools is personal. His 6 year old son, Rhett, has been battling leukemia for over four years, and his fragile immune system means he cannot be vaccinated—he must rely on those around him for immunity.

Those who are not immunized miss the benefits of this concept of “herd immunity,” or protection from a disease through acquired immunity from those in the same population over time.

“It’s not just Rhett. There are hundreds of other kids that are going through cancer therapy, and it’s not fair to them,” said University of California, San Francisco oncologist Dr. Robert Goldsby. “They have to rely on their friends and colleagues and community to help protect them.”

In many ways, it is a luxury to be having this discussion at all. Many in the developing world continue to hope for vaccines in order to combat preventable diseases but to no avail. Due to vaccines, humanity has been able to overcome diseases that were once feared and widespread. When some parents choose to willingly create greater medical risks for their children by not choosing to immunize them, they unwittingly create a greater risk for everyone around them.

90.5 The percentage of people in California vaccinated against measles

92 The percentage of people that need to be vaccinated against measles for “herd immunity” to work

48,000 Number of people that were hospitalized with measles before a reliable vaccine was released in 1963

644 Cases of measles reported in 2014, compared to only 37 in 2004

4 Number of days an infected person can spread the virus

75 Number of studies that show no link between vaccines and autism

37 Number of vaccines that contain mercury in 2004

SOURCES: bloomberg.com, cdc.gov, nih.gov, cnn.com

Facts compiled by ROBERT MIRANDA

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