The rapid rise of the anti-vaccination movement

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, left, is given a band-aid after a flu vaccination from Sharon Walsh-Bonadies, RN., right, during a news conference recommending everyone age six months an older be vaccinated against influenza each year, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017 in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

During the past few years, the anti-vaccination movement has been gaining ascendency in the United States as we begin to see the reversal of decades worth of steady public health gains. Recently, vaccine opponents have found fresh energy from President Trump’s support of the discredited claims linking childhood immunizations to autism. This fringe movement has the potential to gain official recognition, putting lives at risk and making it crucial for health officials, educators, and others to resist this rise with a science-based defense of vaccines.

    From years of research, trials and endless determination, vaccines have saved lives by providing protection from diseases such as whooping cough, smallpox, polio, and measles. Prime evidence of the rise of this movement can be seen through the measles outbreaks in America. Measles, one of the most lethal and contagious of all human diseases, still kills around 100,000 children each year worldwide. One person infected with measles can infect more than a dozen unvaccinated people, which are usually infants too young to have received their first measles vaccine. This high level of transmissibility means that when children in a community who have received the vaccine quickly declines, we start to see major outbreaks. The biggest fear is that this movement will cause parents to begin refusing to let their children be immunized. Such an incident occured in the 1950s when four million Americans a year were infected and 450 died. This past spring, a 3-year old boy and 18-month girl contracted measles in Minnesota’s largest outbreak since the 1980s. What began as a couple cases turned into a full-blown outbreak, revealing the dangerous ramifications of the anti-vaccine movement in the United States. In addition, in Texas this past decade, the number of children who received vaccination exemptions from school has risen sharply to tens of thousands and still continues to grow.

    It is somewhat understandable that some parents are anxious about autism. There are many publications out there claiming that the vaccines are causing autism. Although this literature may be advertised the most, behind each article is a scientific explanation for the possible reasons why more children have been found to be on the autism spectrum in recent years. There are countless factors that play a role, from genetic factors, to fetal brain defects that develop during pregnancy due to different toxic exposures. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the brain differences associated with autism may be found early in infancy, before children receive most vaccines. Other scientists have found that alterations in brain-cell development, genetic risk factors, and advanced parental age are all plausible reasons for the rise in autism.

The pseudoscience claiming that vaccines like the one that prevents measles are connected to autism has persisted through the years even with the scientific evidence to the contrary. Numerous studies have proven that vaccines are safe and effective, which can easily be seen by the significant decrease and near eradication of diseases such as Polio in the United States.  It is worrisome that our nation’s health may be at risk if we do not stand up against the pseudoscience claims of the anti-vaccination movement.


Lily Zhong is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lily.zhong@uconn.edu.