Recently, the controversy over vaccinations is back in the spotlight, after a bill passed in Colorado tightening the loophole which allows parents to chose not to vaccinate and actress Kristen Cavallari (of Laguna Beach and The Hills) spoke out against vaccinations claiming a connection with autism. While the science seems indisputable, there is still a great deal of widespread medical misunderstanding and people who believe that their freedom to choose trumps the safety of those around them.
In Colorado, a state with one of the highest occurrences of immunization personal belief exemptions, the legislature has passed a bill meant to make it more difficult for parents to deny vaccinating their children. Concerned with recent epidemic-level outbreaks of whooping cough in the state, the new legislation forces parents to obtain the signature of a health care provider or public health representative confirming that the person seeking the exemption fully understands the risks and benefits of the vaccine both to the child and the community. Additionally, anyone seeking a personal belief exemption must complete an online educational program that also outlines the risks and benefits of vaccines to the child and people around him or her.
In the past five years, many other states that offer personal exemptions have attempted to pass similar laws. After a similar uptick in whooping cough cases in California, a 2010 outbreak killed ten infants and infected nine thousand other residents, the state passed a similar law late last year. Oregon also made it harder for parents to get exemptions on March 1st of this year.
Anti-vaccination groups have attacked the loophole-tightening laws, saying that it is discriminatory to assume that a personally held belief automatically means that parents are not adequately educated.
But it is a little hard to believe that these parents are...
Already this year we've seen a measles outbreak in California infect 49 people - which is more than ten times the number of people that were diagnosed in the state by April of 2013. Doctors agree that the reason for this outbreak is clear: undervaccinating and not vaccinating at all. The same has been found to be the case in the mumps outbreak that has now grown to 116 people in central Ohio, where at least three of the infected patients had not been vaccinated. Unfortunately, because of the nature of these diseases and our fading immunity even when vaccinated, all it takes is one. Maybe that is what is so hard for parents to understand; these diseases are never really gone, that's not what eradication means. We all have to stay vigilant for the sake of our communities, not just ourselves.
But as we know well, those in Hollywood are often unsymmpathetic to the communities beyond the gates of their Beverly Hills mansions. While I have to give Kristen Cavallari some credit, because she was most definitely ambushed in the Fox Business interview where she admitted that she would not vaccinate her children because of fears about autism, the danger of the influential, ignorant celebrity is undeniable. Until science finds real answers to what causes autism, it seems that much of the country will continue to give some credence to the findings of the retracted research that led us all to believe that there was a connection between vaccines and autism. The medical community cannot seem to yell the facts loud enough, while celebrities - like in the case of Cavallari - cannot help but have their misguided views infiltrate the masses, even when proselytizing was not their goal.
I can understand not blindly believing anyone - even your doctor or pharmacist - but by that same token you cannot blindly believe the Internet, or Jenny McCarthy. Understanding the risks is more complicated than it seems, when you put yourself in the shoes of someone who does not trust their doctor, but the education is necessary. It makes me wonder what, if anything, the pharma industry can do to help educate those who don't vehemently believe the fallacies, but just fear the negative possibilities that come with all that is unknown about the things they are putting into their, and their children's bodies.