At the end of 2016, a young family of five contracted a case of rotavirus, a virus that causes gastroenteritis. In 2015, a Canadian woman and her family were quarantined. The reason? All seven of her children had contracted pertussis, better known as “whooping cough." Five years ago, a 19-month-old Ezekiel Stephan came down with a fever and a stuffy nose. Two weeks later he died of bacterial meningitis. While these stories may not seem related in any way, they are connected by one thing: each one could have been prevented by the use of vaccines.
Vaccines have been talked about and debated since they were first introduced into mainstream society in the late 1800s. However, the controversy over vaccinations did not become a household topic until much more recently. In 1998, a British gastroenterologist and researcher named Andrew Wakefield published a paper describing a link between a vaccine and the presence of autism in children who had recently been inoculated. It was later revealed that Wakefield’s paper was fraudulent, and that the MMR vaccine, which is used to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella, had absolutely no link to the development of autism in children. Despite the retraction of the paper and the removal of Wakefield’s medical license, the seeds had been planted in people’s mind. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done.
Scientists have spent the years since Wakefield’s report was first published attempting to undo his actions and prove that vaccines and autism are not linked. And they have. However, it seems that plenty of people are not yet convinced, including our President Donald Trump. While Trump has not spoken about his beliefs regarding vaccines since the inauguration, he made his position on them clear during his campaign.
In September 2015 during a GOP debate, Trump claimed while he was not against vaccines, he believed that they should be distributed in smaller and fewer doses. However, he also did not deny the falsehood that vaccines cause autism, stating, “we had so many instances, people that work for me, just the other day, 2 years old, a beautiful child, went to have the vaccine and came back and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic." While these statements tell us that President Trump seems to know very little about autism, they unfortunately do not tell us much about his actual policies regarding vaccines and what he will be supporting during his term.
Although, we do have some clues. This past August, Trump met with many prominent anti-vaxxer’s at a Florida fundraiser, including Andrew Wakefield. According to an article from Sciencemag.org, Trump and the donors “expressed interest in holding future meetings,” and he even promised to watch their anti-vaccine documentary “Vaxxed.” This past week, Trump met with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a known vaccine skeptic, about leading a coalition on “vaccine safety and scientific integrity." Trump has since rejected claims that a decision has been made on the subject.
Having a president who disregards scientific fact is bad enough; the effects it is having on other anti-vaxxers is more troubling. Over the past two years, support for and against vaccines has changed dramatically. While Democrats have only increased their belief that vaccines are safe, Republicans opinions on the subject have plummeted to 53 percent – a nine percent decrease since 2015.
At this point in time, when the majority of children are vaccinated on a regular schedule, it may seem like forgoing vaccines is not the biggest deal. While yes, it can be dangerous for the one individual child, it may not appear to be any threat to the greater population. However, if these numbers continue to decrease, and less children are vaccinated each year, the diseases that vaccines prevent will become more prominent. By limiting the chances that diseases have to spread, we minimize the risk of infection.
The scientific evidence is overwhelming: vaccines do not cause autism. By denying this, our leaders are spreading “alternative facts” and leading us on a path towards more destruction. We have come so far in the fight against diseases that these vaccines cause, if only we could do the same for our fight against ignorance.
Emma Hungaski is an opinion contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.