We decided to take a break from the creative environmental fables springing forth in Minneapolis to hit yet another field where fact and fabrication have been scarily intertwined: autism and vaccines. The anti-vax celebrity movement is going strong—now they can add Lance Armstrong to their ranks—and more parents are jumping on the "screw public health, we don't want autistic kids" bandwagon. Meanwhile, the U.S. is already seeing a measles spike, while Canada is reporting a mumps epidemic and the U.K. is bracing itself for a possible measles outbreak. All while the actual research continues to show that there is absolutely no link between vaccines and autism, Crohn's disease, colitis, asthma, teenage pregnancy, incurable foot odor, etc. A stock anti-vax response to these facts? "So what? Who says the measles are so bad?" Well, doctors, that's who. As ABC News reports, the anti-vax movement isn't just leaving an isolated number of unvaccinated children vulnerable—it's putting entire regions in danger:
“When more than 10 percent of a community opts out of vaccinations, it leaves the entire community at risk because germs have a greater chance of causing an epidemic,” said Dr. Ari Brown, an Austin, Texas, pediatrician who represents the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The issue at hand is "herd immunity," which works as a buffer: If enough people in a community are vaccinated, they protect those with weaker immune systems, or those whose vaccinations didn't take, from catching the disease. The CDC estimates that some diseases, like mumps, can't generally take hold in a population where as few as 75 percent of the people are vaccinated. But other, more virulent diseases, such as measles or the increasingly common whooping cough, need collective immunity of up to 94 percent to avoid infection. So, in essence: Sure, your unvaccinated kid may live through the measles, or the mumps (though, as one doctor noted, cases in Canada have led to hospitalizations, deafness, meningitis, and sterility). But he's also putting the other kids at risk. As for the argument that children may suffer violent allergic reactions to vaccines? That one may soon kick the bucket entirely, now that a team of experts has discovered that with close monitoring and a few standard precautions, almost all children with known or suspected vaccine allergies (as determined by a pre-shots allergy test) can be safely immunized. One more reason to support scientific research.