Mar 2, 2015
A measles outbreak involving at least 149 cases has been happening since December. Most of the cases have been linked to the exposure of unvaccinated people who visited Disneyland in California.
There has been a rise in the number of parents refusing to have their children vaccinated in recent years. Many have been swayed by the stupidity of anti-science attitudes expressed by celebrities like Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy. Opponents of vaccination whipped up fears of a link between vaccines and an increase in the rate of autism, supported by a study published in 1999 in the British medical journal the Lancet linking the two.
Their fears were unjustified. The Lancet article has since been thoroughly discredited and the journal has retracted it, yet many parents are still refusing to vaccinate their children.
It is no accident that the lowest vaccination rates are happening in some of the wealthiest communities. Misinformed parents from these privileged areas motivated by fear and individualism are choosing not to have their young children vaccinated. In so doing, they are not only putting their own children at risk. They also put at risk other vulnerable young children too young for vaccination because their immune systems have not yet fully formed, and the elderly, whose immune systems may be compromised by their age or other illnesses.
As a result of the reduced rate of vaccination, the current measles outbreak is just the latest to occur in recent years. Others took place in 2008, 2011, 2013, and 2014 when there were more cases than usual. Last year there were 644 cases in all. There has also been an even bigger increase in the number of whooping cough cases in the U.S. in recent years.
There are effective vaccines against both measles and whooping cough, also known as pertussis. The recent measles outbreaks are happening even though the disease was considered eliminated in this country in 2000.
It’s true that most of the fall in many infectious diseases occurred before the development of vaccines due to improvements in sanitation in many places in the world. These improvements weren’t made out of the goodness of the capitalists’ hearts. It took social movements to win them for the majority of the population.
Vaccines have, in turn, helped bring about, or nearly so, the complete eradication of some infectious diseases.
In practice, no vaccine can be 100% effective. This is because vaccines do not take hold in all vaccinated individuals.
The effectiveness of any vaccine, therefore, depends on a very high rate of vaccination in the population. This produces what scientists call “herd immunity.”
If someone with measles enters a population from outside and everyone, or nearly everyone, has been vaccinated, the infected person is highly unlikely to infect those whose vaccine didn’t take, because they are protected by the surrounding “herd” who cannot contract the disease because they’ve been effectively vaccinated.
Vaccination, therefore, is a social obligation. In addition to young children and the elderly, unvaccinated people also put at risk those who fulfilled their social obligation but in whom the vaccine did not take hold.
Besides continuing to point to the now discredited link between vaccines and the rise in autism, some opponents of mandatory vaccination express a mistrust of government mandates and the medical establishment to justify exposing their own children and others to the risk of spreading deadly diseases otherwise practically eliminated.
There is plenty of reason to mistrust the bosses’ government, and to be skeptical of capitalist medicine’s high dependence on profitable pharmaceuticals to treat diseases, but not in the case of vaccines. While some vaccines recently became profitable, for many years they were not. For that reason, at times there were shortages of some vaccines, because no corporation wanted to make them.
Rather than pushing vaccination on the population, capitalism has stood in the way of vaccination.
The near elimination of some infectious diseases has been one of the success stories of modern medicine and public health – but only where people have access to proper sanitation and vaccines. Everyone should have a right to both sanitary living conditions and vaccines. Everyone should also have the right to expect that others be required to get vaccines that have been proven safe and effective.