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Dec. 9, 2019

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In Our View: Vaccines are Essential

Failing to immunize is detrimental to child, peers, civilized community

The Columbian
Published: January 18, 2019, 6:03am

Clark County officials have confirmed 14 recent incidents of measles and are investigating several possible cases.

That represents a clear threat to public health and provides another opportunity to stress the importance of immunizations. The only way to combat misinformation is with reliable information founded on evidence rather than hysteria — and hysterical falsehoods are the foundation for the absurd anti-vaccine movement in the United States.

The latest confirmed cases join one that was confirmed Jan. 4 in Clark County; as far as health officials have determined, each case has something in common — the person who contracted the virus has not been vaccinated. Anybody who might have come into contact with a contagious person, particularly if they have not been inoculated, should be aware of possible symptoms, which can include fever, dry cough, runny nose, and spots or a rash on the skin.

Meanwhile, everybody who is able to do so should receive the standard series of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination. For reasons that are confounding and frustrating, that suggestion has become controversial in recent years. Some people — the very young and those with particular medical conditions — are unable to receive the MMR vaccine. Others might have religious convictions that lead them to eschew vaccinations. But for many people who decline vaccines, their reasoning can be traced to fraudulent science and hucksterism.

In 1998, British doctor Andrew Wakefield wrote a research paper for the medical journal The Lancet in which he suggested a link between childhood vaccines and autism. What Wakefield didn’t mention is that he had been paid by trial lawyers hoping to cash in by blaming vaccines for their clients’ autism. Nor did Wakefield mention that he had applied for a patent on his own measles vaccine, and therefore had good reason to demean the current vaccine.

Since then, Wakefield has been discredited. He is banned from practicing medicine, and by 2010, The Lancet had entirely retracted his findings. Yet the damage he caused is not so easily retracted. Triggered by Wakefield’s fraudulent claims, the anti-vaccine movement has grown over the past 20 years, and now we are seeing its impact.

Measles, once considered eradicated in the United States, has been resurgent; in 2018, there were about 350 cases. While that is hardly cause for panic in a nation of about 325 million people, it is wholly unnecessary. Since 2003, the Centers for Disease Control has funded at least nine studies finding no link between vaccines and autism; independent studies have reached the same conclusion. There is no evidence to keep Wakefield’s fraud alive other than online posts repeating unfounded rumors.

At its core, the anti-vax movement reflects the difficulty in fighting disinformation and the need to persistently repeat evidence-based truth. But the disinformation campaign has dire consequences.

Many people are unable to receive vaccinations because of medical reasons. Herd immunity — at least 90 percent of the population being vaccinated — is essential to public health. Vaccinations are not foolproof, with the effectiveness rate for two doses being about 97 percent. And the disease is fatal in 1 to 2 of every 1,000 childhood cases. All of that means that vaccines are essential.

Failing to have children immunized is an act of selfishness that endangers not only your child but also those they come into contact with. Receiving recommended vaccinations are simply part of living in a civilized community.