Scientists, freethinkers, and medical professionals have been warning about the dangers of anti-vaccination rhetoric and culture ever since vaccines became commonplace nearly two hundred years ago. A marvel of modern science and medicine, vaccines shield our fragile bodies against deadly diseases. Logical, rational minds understand that vaccines are vital to the health and well-being of society. Unfortunately, too many people mistakenly think that those who are refusing vaccines are only putting themselves in harm’s way; that if most us get vaccinated, it will be those too foolish who will be harmed. Vaccines not only help your body build immunities to life-threatening illnesses, they help to protect individuals with immunodeficiency by creating a healthier environment where they will be confronted with as little threat as possible.
Anti-science, anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists continue to campaign against vaccinating children, insisting that vaccines lead to autism regardless of the evidence against their claims. Religious communities that don’t believe in vaccination, or even medical treatment for common illnesses, pose a real danger to the community as well, yet some religious freedom laws allow parents to deny medical services for children based on their religious beliefs. It also doesn’t help to have an anti-science president who favors Christian Americans at every turn.
Most of us today don’t recognize the diseases or viruses of the past as being a current threat because we’ve done a good job at warding them off by continuing vaccination practices. Last month, however, Minnesota experienced their largest outbreak of measles in nearly thirty years because a large community of Somali immigrants in Minneapolis chose not to vaccinate their children. By May, fifty adults and children were affected by the virus. That number rose over the past weekend to fifty-eight, fifty-five of them being children. Local health officials issued a warning to the community: “parents if you haven’t gotten your kids vaccinated, if you haven’t followed up on that, you need to be thinking about this because this isn’t staying in one community and it’s not staying in one place. It’s spreading across the state.”
To put those numbers into perspective, the state of Minnesota experienced fifty-six cases of measles between 1997 and 2016. So how did this spike happen? In 2008 there was an influx of Somali children in Minneapolis who were receiving different educational services than others. According to a local official, anti-vaxxer groups targeted these children and their parents and began a rigorous anti-vaccination campaign in their communities. Among them was Andrew Wakefield, the researcher who first made the autism-vaccine link in a 1998 study published in The Lancet, research that has been thoroughly discredited and debunked. The Somali community was being flooded with misinformation about health and vaccination data, and parents became so worried about the “risks” of vaccines and autism, it became standard for them to not vaccinate or to adopt an alternative vaccination schedule. Following this campaign of propaganda, vaccination rates plummeted in the community.
On the surface, some may find it easy to blame the Somali immigrants for spreading this outbreak. But can they really be solely to blame? Anti-vaxxers saw an uninformed, vulnerable, trusting community and chose them as their target. One can imagine the fear a parent whose child is diagnosed with autism goes through and their desire to identify the cause. But anti-vaxxers undermine science and medicine simply to uphold an unsupported belief; a belief that threatens the health and safety of all.