I knew that I was going to write this blog post about the
news concerning the resurgence of measles and its relationship to the dangerous
and misguided anti-vaccination movement. The difficulty was with all the lunacy
out there I did not quite know where to start. I grew up in the era prior to
vaccination against childhood diseases. I had measles, mumps, rubella and
chicken pox. I remember the fear people had of these infectious diseases and
even as a child I was aware of how welcome these immunizations were when they
became available. It seems absolutely inconceivable that decades later people
are advocating against vaccines and placing their children and others at risk
of infection with potentially devastating diseases.
There now seems to be a perfect storm of parents making poor
choices for their children, a few vocal physicians giving bad advice, a
staggering number of ill-informed celebrities saying truly stupid things, and
political cowardice and hypocrisy failing to react appropriately. Let’s talk
about the history leading to this unfortunate circumstance. Keep in mind that
in the year 2000 measles was considered to have been vanquished in the US.
There were a few dozen cases all contracted by people who had travelled
overseas. However, these few cases were not transmitted to others because the
rate of immunization was so high, despite the high level of contagiousness.
This circumstance has now changed with people forgoing the vaccinations and
like-minded people creating communities with high levels of the unvaccinated.
This whole mess is largely attributable to the malfeasance
of Dr. Andrew Wakefield. Dr. Wakefield was working for interests looking for
alternatives to vaccination when he made up and published data associating the
measles-mumps-rubella vaccine with the development of autism. This study has
been completely discredited and contradicted by numerous large well conducted
studies that have found no relationship between this vaccine or any of its
components and autism. However, Wakefield and his message were championed by
numerous celebrities who came to his defense and echoed his findings. Please do
not take medical advice from Jenny McCarthy. Even some celebrities who seem to
be quite knowledgeable about some things like Bill Maher and Robert Kennedy Jr.
have advocated against vaccination. Even smart people can be scientifically
Compound this with certain physicians who are taking
positions about vaccination which are inconsistent with scientific and medical
knowledge and the standard of medical care. Listen to what these physicians
have said in just the last few weeks.
Public health officials have allowed parents to opt out of
vaccination requirements much too easily, especially in California where
Disneyland and certain geographic clusters of the unvaccinated are now the
incubators for the pernicious ongoing spread of measles. By the way, whooping
cough is also coming back in California. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has
just spoken out in favor of so called parental rights to decline vaccination
for their children.
Remember that New Jersey was the same state that recently
virtually incarcerated a nurse against her will after she returned from parts
of Africa where Ebola was present. Remember that the United States Supreme
Court upheld the power of the states to require vaccinations in 1905.
We live in a society
where we have determined that people are not allowed to expose others to
unreasonable risks. Think about what we do about drunk driving and second-hand
smoke. I applaud the pediatricians who are excluding unvaccinated children from
their practices to protect their immune compromised patients and babies too
young to be immunized. It is time stop uninformed celebrities, incompetent
doctors, and cowardly politicians from setting the national agenda on
The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI’s online graduate programs, please visit our website.