A new Associated Press analysis reports that vaccine exemptions are on the rise in California, particularly in private school children. Increases in vaccine exemptions are also being reported across the country, in places such as Connecticut.
The U.S. is in the midst of what could be its most devastating and deadly year for pertussis in decades, with nearly 25,000 cases and 13 deaths.
Pertussis reached epidemic levels in California in 2010, so the state legislation established a public information campaign, thereby increasing the availability of vaccines, and passing a law requiring booster shots for older students. However, the opt-out rate has more than doubled since 2004.
Parents cite a variety of reasons for not immunizing their children, including religious beliefs, the notion that allowing children to be exposed to disease bolsters their immune system and, most troubling of all, that the vaccines cause diseases, such as autism, despite study after study showing no linkage and discrediting previous claims. Scientific research has demonstrated that symptoms of autism do not suddenly present themselves in children following vaccination. In addition, the rates of autism around the world do not correspond with the rates of vaccination.
Regardless of the reason parents use to opt out of the vaccines, the result still leads to an increased risk of an outbreak of vaccine-preventable diseases.
The fear of this link between vaccines and autism can be traced to the fraudulent study published by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who has since been discredited. Other studies were unable to reproduce Wakefield's results and an investigation into his findings discovered that he misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients in his study.
A recent empirical study, entitled The combined measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines and the total number of vaccines are not associated with development of autism spectrum disorder: the first case-control study in Asia, further demonstrated that there was no correlation between vaccines and the onset of autism spectrum disorder.
The resultant hysteria of Wakefield's study has led to fear in parents of children with autism, worried that they may somehow be responsible for their child's disability; fear in soon-to-be parents, who may avoid vaccinating their children altogether; and headline-grabbing by the media, who latch onto any sort of controversy for the sake of a story. The result of this fear-mongering is not progress in the domain of autism research, but the flourishing of vaccine-preventable diseases.
Vaccines led to the complete eradication of smallpox, which had 50 million cases per year up until the 1950s, based off the theories of vaccination by Edward Jenner in the late 18th century, not to mention the polio vaccine by Jonas Salk. Currently, there is a burgeoning of autism research, which is leading to promising results in the realms of detection and even treatment.
It is to these domains that the scientific community must devote their resources, just as parents should devote their resources to protecting their children, and their neighbor's children, through vaccination.
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