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Measles outbreak intensifies vaccine controversy

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Measles by Adeline McKinlay

In the first two months of 2015, the United States has already seen more reported cases of measles than ten of the past 14 years.

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “from January 1 to February 27, 2015, 170 people from 17 states and the District of Columbia were reported to have measles. Most of these cases are part of a large, ongoing multi-state outbreak linked to an amusement park in California.”

The CDC reported 644 cases of measles in the United States in 2014, the highest number since the virus was declared no longer endemic in the country in 2000. According to the CDC, the increase in cases of measles is due to unvaccinated individuals.

The newest outbreak of measles has pushed the vaccination controversy back into the public eye. The outbreak has been attributed to a lack of vaccination among the affected population.

This controversy is not new. According to vaccines.procon.org, the Anti-Vaccination Society of America was founded in 1879. By this time, anti-vaccination publications had been established already.

There are no federal laws that mandate vaccination, but every state has vaccination requirements for children entering public schools. The first such law was passed in 1855 in Massachusetts.

During the mid-twentieth century, there was an acceleration of vaccine production and vaccination. Some of these vaccines, such as the measles vaccine and the polio vaccine, have resulted in the elimination of those diseases in the United States.

The controversy was brought back into the public eye after the 1998 publication of Andrew Wakefield’s article in Lancet, in which he stated that the rubella virus and MMR vaccines were associated with autism spectrum disorder. His article has frequently been cited as a rationale for not vaccinating children.

Wakefield’s article was discredited by 2011. It was found that he had falsified some of his data. His medical license was revoked in May 2010. According to CNN, “Most of his co-authors withdrew their names from the study in 2004 after learning he had been paid by a law firm that intended to sue vaccine manufacturers.”

Wakefield defended himself by saying that he did not imply that the MMR vaccine caused autism, but that the general public had made that assumption.

After the article was published, the vaccination rate in Britain dropped. It fell to 80 percent by 2004.

Studies since then have shown little evidence that the MMR vaccine is linked to autism. Part of the problem is that it is not clear what causes autism. It is thought to have genetic and environmental components, but the specifics are unknown.

“Not only do I disagree completely with the people who think vaccines cause autism, using junk science, but I’m also concerned that these people would rather their children risk having a debilitating or life threatening disease than autism,” first-year Liliana Solomon said in an email interview.

There are a number of reasons why individuals choose not to vaccinate their children. Certain vaccines may be ineffective or unsafe for individuals with an immunodeficiency. Some people do not get vaccinated because it is against their religion. Some believe that typically children have strong enough immune systems to fight most diseases and infections. Others believe that vaccinations have harmful side effects, such as seizures, or are associated with autism, ADHD and diabetes.

“My mom was actually told by a doctor not to vaccinate any of us, so we have a religious exemption,” thesis student Angelica Alexander said in an email interview. “Personally, it’s kind of annoying because it means a lot more thought if I want to go abroad. Also, I’m just more susceptible to things in general, but I seem to have a pretty good immune system.”

Another side of the vaccination controversy is those individuals that believe that people should be vaccinated, but that the current schedule for vaccination needs to be altered.

In a survey of 73 New College students, 10 percent said that most people should get vaccinated, but the CDC’s general vaccination schedule should be changed.

“The current CDC schedule has a lot of vaccinations being given after the time they are most needed, particularly for babies,” Alexander said. “If nothing else, parents should be made aware their child could still get sick from non-vaccinated individuals.”

Within communities, vaccinations work by forming what is referred to as “herd” immunity.

“When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines – such as infants, pregnant women, or immunocompromised individuals – get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained,” the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) reports.

Of the surveyed students, 92 percent said that vaccinations make communities healthier.

According to the director of the Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC), Anne Fisher Ph.D., vaccination requirements for registration at New College are the same as other State of Florida institutions. Proof of two MMR’s is mandatory. Additionally, students must either be vaccinated against Hepatitis B and Meningitis or sign a waiver.

“Mandatory MMR’s can be waived if you have a religious exemption or a medical condition which does not let you have them, or if you are pregnant,” Fisher said in an email interview.

Students that do waive vaccinations will not be allowed on campus in the event of an outbreak, and they are still responsible for health fees.

“I agree with the medical community that vaccinations prevent diseases,” Fisher said. She noted that, in her opinion, students should get vaccinated.

Information for this article was taken from: vaccines.procon.org, www.cnn.com, www.niaid.nih.gov, www.cdc.gov

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