Many of us have returned somewhat dejectedly from the past week-long break, feelings of thankfulness fading as we immerse ourselves in pre-finals studying. Meanwhile, elementary school students at Asheville Waldorf School in North Carolina are currently spending a whole 21 days off from school, but for an entirely different reason. These students are under house arrest due to an outbreak of varicella, more commonly known as chickenpox, an infection that can be prevented entirely by vaccination. While 36 of their classmates are stuck in their homes, covered in rashes, the healthy students barred from school also have parents who have refused to vaccinate them.
While chickenpox can manifest as unsightly pruritic lesions in some, it can cause additional and sometimes fatal complications in others. Further afflictions include brain infection or inflammation, pneumonia and sepsis, all of which would never have occurred with just two shots. So why, you might ask, have these children been exposed to such risks? The only exemption for vaccination allowed by the state of North Carolina is religious objection. However, there are virtually no religions that officially reject vaccination, only misguided individuals who put their children and others at risk by claiming this exemption due to primarily personal, as opposed to religious, beliefs.
Surprisingly, the parents who refuse to vaccinate their children are not commonly uneducated or poor. If that had been the case, the vaccination rates of these populations could be raised by promoting healthcare literacy in impoverished areas and establishing more governmental programs to help pay for vaccinations. But these are not the majority of unvaccinated people. Unvaccinated children are more likely to come from college-educated, wealthy, English-speaking, private insurance-holding families. There seems to be no excuse for such people, 70 percent of whom actually acknowledge that vaccines are essential for the health of their children. They instead cite a mistrust of healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies. Others believe that vaccines are unnecessary, that autism is a contagious condition spread through vaccines, or simply that they do not want their children to suffer through so many shots. People die because of these misconceptions. In 2010, when whooping cough cases in California multiplied due to a lack of vaccination, 10 defenseless infants died because they were not yet old enough to be vaccinated.
There are many reasons why people opposed to vaccination are wrong. Vaccines are not financially profitable for drug companies or doctors; quite the contrary, each dollar spent on vaccines saves 44 dollars in medical and productivity costs from the treatment of the disease. Additionally, before being administered to the public, a vaccine must undergo a series of testing to prove that it is in fact safe and effective. One of the most unfounded beliefs is that vaccines cause autism. This idea stems from an improperly conducted British study that claimed the causation, which has since been invalidated by many legitimate studies and yet is still widespread. Furthermore, many children fight and cry when it is time to get their shots, but this fleeting discomfort is minute in comparison to the life-threatening illnesses that those shots prevent.
It is sad when tragedy strikes an area, but even more so when these devastating events could have been avoided. Earthquakes and hurricanes may be unpreventable, but refusal to vaccinate is a choice that ends lives. The chicken pox outbreak in North Carolina has endangered a region with ample resources. In other places around the world where access to vaccines is scarce, communities suffer at the hands of diseases that the United States and other countries have vaccines to prevent. It is therefore irresponsible, unwise and unkind for us to reject the privilege of vaccination.
Veronica Eskander is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.