Many Washington University in St. Louis students scoff at these sentiments because science has proven that vaccinations prevent disease and protect public health. In a survey with a sample of WUSTL students, 100 hundred percent of those surveyed affirmed they believed that vaccinations were beneficial.
Phrases discounting the effectiveness or safety of vaccinations are not words we would expect from two prospective presidential candidates for the 2016 election. However, Governor Chris Christie said there should be “some measure of choice” in getting children vaccinated and Senator Rand Paul asserted that there had been “many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” Such assertions, with a lack of verifiable scientific backing, are not exactly what we want to hear from potential future presidents of the United States of America.
These anti-vaccination statements are problematic in light of the latest mass outbreaks of measles causing major concern in the United States. We have seen more cases of measles in the past few months of 2015 than in an entire typical year. The outbreak was traced back to Disneyland in California and spread to fourteen states during January 2015. The majority of those infected were unvaccinated. Dr. Stoner, associate professor of sociocultural anthropology with a focus on infectious diseases at Washington University in St. Louis, said that parents choosing to not vaccinate their children will cause the United States to “see a resurgence of vaccine preventable diseases, the likes of which we have never seen in our lifetime … not just measles but mumps, diphtheria, maybe even something like polio.”
But why does this affect WUSTL? As seen in the survey at WUSTL, all of our students believe in the merit of vaccinations. However, with all of these recent measles outbreaks, Dr. Stoner said, “[it’s] possible that someone with measles could come back to the midwest and spread measles. It’s highly contagious, and it’s possible that some students would acquire measles as a result of that. This trend towards not vaccinating is creating this potential for serious public health problems. Although my guess is that most of the WUSTL student population is vaccinated and the impact would be limited, the disease can be spread to people who have been vaccinated, even if it’s less likely.” The fact is that not getting vaccinated and becoming susceptible to these diseases puts those who have been vaccinated at risk as well.
More, while many of our students agree with vaccines, some of their parents had misgivings about vaccinations. In the survey at WUSTL, 14 percent of the students surveyed admitted that their parents had questioned the way that vaccines were administered. Some comments included statements like, “My parents are skeptical of the flu vaccine because I got the flu the week after getting it” and “Parents have delayed vaccinations (especially the HPV vaccine)”.
The fears that vaccines are excessive or that they might actually cause the illness are prevalent among the parents of our students, even though these claims have no scientific backing. Dr. Stoner addressed some of these ideas. When asked whether or not the flu vaccine could cause the flu, Dr. Stoner retorted that, “You can have a low grade local reaction, a low grade fever that lasts for about 24 hours. One thing it won’t do is give you the flu … That’s just not true. There’s a lot of misconception about that.” He addressed the idea that vaccinations are delayed or staggered over time by arguing that children can “get the disease during infancy during the time when they’re not covered, especially with outbreaks lately. The thing is that diseases are more severe when you get them at a young age.”
Vaccines are widely accessible especially in the United States. The most tragic part of dying from a vaccine preventable disease is that it is simply so easy to prevent. Not getting the vaccine puts not only yourself but also the people around you in danger. As future parents of the next generation, we need to understand and spread the word that vaccinations are only here to help.