Widespread vaccination programs have been the key to driving many crippling diseases to extinction. This boils down to one, simple, irrefutable fact: they work and are incredibly safe. However the anti-vaccination movement, which asserts all sorts of non-scientific dribble, has caused vaccine rates to drop to levels where herd immunity starts to become compromised. This presents a number of challenges as unvaccinated children and adults are not only a threat to themselves but to others who have contact with them. Indeed the problem may be worse than first thought as it appears that even among those who do vaccinate the completion rate is low, with 1 in 3 two year olds in the USA not having completed the recommended vaccination course.
The study, published RTI International (a non-profit research institute based in North Carolina), showed that up until a child was 2 years old the state of their vaccinations was quite fluid. Indeed the vast majority of children weren’t compliant with the required vaccination schedule with most of them receiving a dose outside the recommended window. Upon reaching approximately 24 months of age however most had caught up with the required schedule although a staggering 33% of them were still non-compliant at this age. This might not seem like much of an issue since the majority do eventually get their vaccinations however there are sound scientific reasons for the scheduling of vaccines. Ignoring them has the potential to limit, or completely negate, their efficacy.
The standard vaccine schedule has been developed to maximise the efficacy of vaccines and also to reduce the risk that, should a child contract that disease, potentially life threatening complications are reduced or eliminated. The pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine is estimated to have an extremely high efficacy rate in young children, up to 95%, but that begins to drop off rapidly if the vaccine is administered later in life. Similar efficacy slopes are seen in other childhood disease vaccines such as the combined MMR vaccine. At the same time these vaccines are administered around the time when the potential impacts of the disease are at their greatest. Missing a vaccine at that point runs the risk of severe complications should the disease be contracted at that point.
It’s unsurprising that the study found that the western states had the lowest rates of vaccination as that’s where the anti-vaccination movement has been most active. Just this year there was an outbreak of measles there and the year before that there was a whooping cough epidemic. Interestingly the southern states had the highest rates of vaccination as shown by the snippet of this infographic above. Whilst the anti-vaccination movement is undeniably an influence in the hodge-podge vaccination approach that seems prevalent the blame here lies solely on the parents who aren’t adhering to the vaccination schedule better.
It’s understandable that some of these things can slip as the challenges of being a parent are unending but when it comes to their health there’s really no other competing priority. For parents this means that they’ll need to pay better attention to their doctor’s advice and ensure that the vaccine schedule is adhered to more closely. Additionally the government could readily help in alleviating this issue by developing better reminder systems, ones that are more in tune with the modern parent’s lives. Hopefully these statistics alone will be enough to jar most into action.
I don’t have kids and probably won’t for another few years but that doesn’t mean I can’t understand some of the things that parents go through. I used to work in child care back in the day and by far the biggest concern any of the parents had was their child’s health. As a care giver every child’s health was my concern as disease has a tendency to spread rapidly in those situations and one sick kid can mean dozens if not taken care of correctly. This, amongst numerous other reasons, is why I fail to understand why some parents refuse to vaccinate their children as otherwise you’re putting them (and other children) at a great risk.
Now I know the reasons why most parents don’t vaccinate their children. Mostly it has to do with their concern that vaccines, in particular the triple shot MMR, will cause their child to develop an Autism Spectrum Disorder. The controversy surrounding this is well known but it is suffice to say that all the evidence and scientific research shows that vaccines can not and do not lead to ASDs. Any correlation that can be drawn between the two is simply that and can not be used as a basis for causation. The fact of the matter is that so far the only proven cause for autism is genetics and any environmental factors are either still under investigation or have been thoroughly disproved. To say otherwise at this point is unscientific conjecture and it would be reckless to base your child’s health decisions on such things.
The usual retort people have for the decision not to vaccinate is that it’s their decision and they should have the choice to make it. At this point the crazed libertarian in me starts shrieking out in support of them and I’d agree with him, right up until I get to the point of where their decisions start to impact others. Whilst the decision not to vaccinate your child is not only a bad decision for them it’s also a bad thing for society at large. Herd immunity requires a certain number of people to be immune to a disease before the non-immune can benefit from their protection. The anti-vaccination movement has had a big enough impact that for certain diseases we’re actually below that critical threshold and those who can’t be made immune, like those who are too young, end up paying the price.
Thankfully I live in Australia a place where the government has finally decided to hit people who refuse to vaccinate their children where it hurts, in their wallet:
Parents who do not have their children fully immunised will be stripped of family tax benefits under a scheme announced by the Federal Government.
The Government says 11 per cent of five-year-olds are not immunised and has announced a shake-up of the system which will take effect from July 1 next year.
Under the changes, families who refuse vaccinations face losing up to $2,100 per child in benefits.
That number of unvaccinated children is rather scary as the herd immunity level for pertussis (whooping cough) and measles is above that vaccination rate. Now this change won’t convince everyone, there are some that to refuse to vaccinate on principle, but hopefully it will drive the numbers up high enough that it won’t matter any more. As it stands now we’re in danger of seeing a resurgence of these diseases that, to put it simply, we shouldn’t have to.
This isn’t one of those ethical grey areas where you can justify your decision based on whatever you believe in, the fact is that if you’re child isn’t vaccinated they are not only at risk themselves but they also put others at risk. The only time I’d support someone not vaccinating their children is if they kept them away from all other children which I think everyone will agree would be far more damaging to them than a shot in the arm. So if the Australian government isn’t going to entertain the anti-vaccination movement neither should you and if you still feel the need to go against the grain because of some whacky view you saw on the Internet then I’m glad you’re getting slugged for it. Maybe then you’ll think twice about the callous decision you’re making.