Vaccines were the topic of a U.S. Senate health committee meeting Tuesday, where lawmakers were deciding whether to force all parents to vaccinate their children. It comes in the wake of a massive spread of measles, more than 200 cases just this year for a disease that was considered wiped out. That is until many people stopped vaccinating their children.
Perhaps the most surprising testimony came from Ethan Lindenberger, 18,. His mother opted not to have him get his shots as a child. As soon as he was legal age, he chose to protect himself.
“It is with respect and love that I disagree with my mother,” he said. “My decision to get vaccinated was based on the health and safety of myself and other people.”
Lindenberger defended his mother saying she simply followed social media for her information regarding the danger of vaccines. While he based his decision on studies by the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, medical journals and his physician.
“In one such instance where I approached my mother with information from the CDC that claimed vaccines do not cause autism, she responded with, ‘That’s what they want you to think,’” Lindenberger said. “Skepticism and worry were taking the forefront in terms of information.”
Dr Tina Tan, an infectious disease specialist at Chicago’s Lurie Children’s said social media plays a role.
“Because of social media and the internet, I think there are a lot of people receiving misinformation or incorrect information,” she said. “And a lot of these individuals already were on the fence about different things and this just basically fueled their fire to basically get behind not wanting to vaccinate individuals.”
Social media posts have long quoted a now debunked study by Andrew Wakefield. He was paid by lawyers suing for vaccine injuries and reported the measles mumps rubella vaccine contributed to autism. Various studies have found his research was fake science. The Lancet Medical Journal, which originally published the Wakefield paper, retracted it in 2010 citing deliberate fraud and ethical research violations.
“That was the starting point. There have always been anti-vaxxers since vaccines have been available, but Wakefield really caused this to explode,” Tan said.
This week, a study appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine refuting the autism-vaccine connection. Scientists set out to address people’s concerns and get the facts that may help protect the masses with herd immunity when all are vaccinated all are protected. They found even children with a prior risk for autism were not negatively impacted by vaccines.
Given the lack of side effects and the great benefits, Tan said all children should be vaccinated. But only three states in the US require vaccination unless someone cannot medically get the vaccines. Every other state, including Illinois, while allowing medical exemptions, also give people the ability to site religious or philosophical reasons for not getting vaccinated.
“Because of the magnitude of the outbreaks we are currently seeing, it is very possible that we are going to triple or quadruple that number by the end of the year,” Tan said.
Some lawmakers suggested a national campaign to educate people about the value of vaccines and the lack of threat. Others remind doctors they should be the first point of reference and should educate their patients.
For more information, Dr Tan suggests: