Few objects in public health have done so much for society as the vaccine. One of the most important innovations of recent medical history, these inexpensive can be credited with saving an estimated two to three million lives – annually, according to the World Health Organization. With this technology so easily available, it is important not to take their benefits for granted and to instead advocate for their continued status as being mandatory for participation in society.
Clearly, there are demonstrable medical reasons for why a small percentage of the population cannot be vaccinated, but there is a growing community of people who are opposed to vaccinations for more philosophical objections. Perhaps the phrase philosophical objections is too euphemistic – opposition to vaccines rooted in personal fretting is selfish, dangerous and completely unconsciously.
Vaccination is important because it is rooted in the concept of herd immunity, which describes how a very large number in a community, when vaccinated, can stop the spread of harmful pathogens. This large group of vaccinated people acts as barriers since they can neither become sick with that disease themselves nor pass the pathogen on to those around them. This concept of herd immunity allows us to better protect everyone from certain nasty diseases and drastically reduce the likelihood that people who cannot be vaccinated, such as infants, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, will be subject to infection.
Perhaps the most pernicious concern over vaccinations is that they have been shown to cause Autism. This is not true. Every story you have ever heard linking the two is rooted in a single fabricated 1997 study published by a surgeon named Andrew Wakefield, which has been thoroughly debunked in the decades since. Numerous studies showing no link between vaccination and autism have been conducted since, and propagation of this myth is not only false, it also runs up against serious issues concerning how we as a society think about autism (i.e. not well).
Scare tactics involving citations of yucky sound compounds are also just that – scare tactics which rely on a lack of scientific literacy. The most famous creepy chemical known to hide in your children’s vaccines is a preservative called thiomersal, which contains the well-known toxic element, mercury. Conveniently, doctors are often pretty good at studying the things they have used in vaccines for the past 80 years.
Despite what 14 seconds on Google might suggest, you will not die from the levels of innate mercury present in vaccines. In fact, every major health organization in the world concurs that vaccines do not contain ingredients known to cause harm. They do, however, contain ingredients known to stop polio, rotavirus, diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, pneumococcal conjugate and hepatitis A and B. So weigh those options, if you will.
The most important reason vaccinations are and should be strictly mandatory for all who are medically able to be vaccinated, though, is that it’s not just your choice. Not being vaccinated or not vaccinating your children is not just a choice to make it more likely that you or your child will die of a totally preventable disease. Foregoing vaccination is also a choice to make the world less safe for people who cannot be vaccinated. That small percentage of people rely on herd immunity to stay healthy.
In what other circumstance would it be acceptable to knowingly seriously risk the lives of others for absolutely no benefit to your own life? The anti-vaccination movement might, at first glance, seem like they can be written off as a myopic group whose actions only affect their own children. Their numbers are small enough that they actually benefit from the herd immunity they have taken a cudgel to; most of the rest of us have a full slate of protections from the nasty diseases of not too long ago. But the operative word there is “most”, so don’t forget that the list of people you put at risk with missed vaccines goes far beyond just your little unvaccinated tyke.