Kyle Poplin

Weekly Roundup – 3/15/14: What it might take to change the mind of ‘vaccine truthers’

Fear is pervasive in health care in both the developed and developing worlds. But when it comes to vaccines, health fears are driving the affluent and poor in opposite directions.

In developing countries, parents fear their children won’t get the lifesaving vaccines they need to prevent diseases like diarrhea, pneumonia, tuberculosis, diphtheria, measles, pertussis, tetanus and polio.

Their fears are justified; one in five children around the world doesn’t get immunized. Most of these children live in rural areas and slums. A lot of them die – about 1.5 million a year.

The parents of these children, when made aware of the consequences, would do anything to get the vaccines their children need.

Meanwhile, in the developed world, a growing number of parents are fighting to keep their children from being immunized, due to their fear that immunizations cause problems like autism. In their countries, vaccines have largely eradicated many of the infectious diseases still common in the developing world, So these parents believe they have the luxury of doubting the evidence to the contrary, and disregarding the fact that vaccines save 2.5 million lives every year.

They’re wrong. Dead wrong. And if recent trends continue, they may find themselves confronting the same deadly afflictions that have long been the concern mainly of the global poor.

Measles is making a huge comeback in the U.S., as is pertussis (whooping cough). There were 87 cases of rubella in Japan in 2010; the number jumped to 5,442 in just the first four months of 2013.

These diseases are regaining a foothold, experts say, because of the pockets of “vaccine truthers” who aren’t getting their children vaccinated.

From a logical perspective, it makes sense that vaccines save lives and that they only work if the vast majority of the population is vaccinated.

But logic seems to play only a small role in the debate about vaccines and autism. In a study reported in TIME magazine, some anti-vaccination parents were shown four different scientifically supported arguments that vaccinations are safe. After having seen the evidence, the parents were actually less inclined to innoculate their children against measles, mumps and rubella.

Their distrust – and their fear – outweighed the proof.

Scientists and health officials are leading the charge for vaccinations. Too often, the spokespeople against vaccinations are individuals with a media platform but no medical training, like talk-show hosts and the professional football quarterback’s reality-star wife interviewed recently on TV. They fear the possibility of autism because they’ve seen autism in person and they know it’s increasing, and that no one knows what causes it.

But what if they saw firsthand the reality of life in the developing world, where death and debilitating illnesses are the daily result of diseases for which the prevention has been known for decades? The anti-vaccination movement may soon discover the hard way that the real risk of infectious disease is a far more potent fear than an illusory link between vaccinations and autism.

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Education, Health Care
infectious diseases, vaccines