By Duke Staff
In the age of widespread disinformation and “fake news,” few unenlightened conspiracy theories have been stranger than the rhetoric from the league of “anti-vaxxer” parents on Facebook. Derived from a 1998 study that has since been disproven, “anti-vaxxers” are a group of people who refuse to vaccinate their children for fear that immunizations are linked to autism. While their views have often been a source of jokes and Internet memes, their uninformed opinions are leading to more serious repercussions.
Measles, a disease that was declared eliminated in the U.S. nearly 20 years ago, has resurfaced in two states and is spreading rampantly.
The government of Washington state declared a public emergency on Jan. 30, following a measles outbreak that infected a total of 53 people (mostly young children) in Clark County. Several cases have also been confirmed in two neighboring counties, one of which includes Seattle. According to the Washington Department of Health, one in four kindergarten aged students in Clark County did not receive all of their required vaccinations (including measles, mumps and rubella) in the 2017-2018 school year.
In New York, the largest measles outbreak in the state’s recent history has reached nearly 200 cases after it began in October in Rockland and Orange counties, as well as four neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Additionally, in the first month of the new year alone, measles cases were reported in California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, Texas, Georgia, Oregon and Colorado, according to the Center for Disease Control. A New York State Department of Health Commissioner wrote an op-ed in USA Today referring to measles as “coming back from the grave” and stating “a national outbreak is a national outrage.”
To make matters worse, only three states in the U.S. — Mississippi, West Virginia and California — do not allow parents to refuse to vaccinate their children for non-medical reasons, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This only further enables the anti-vaxxer community to put their own children at risk in the name of their misguided beliefs that they derived from an “article” they saw on Facebook.
The World Health Organization recently dubbed “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the largest international health threats of 2019. The disinformation spread by anti-vaxxers, once a cause for eye rolls, is something that we all need to start taking seriously. When already eradicated diseases begin re-emerging across our country en masse, swift and decisive action is needed, without hesitation. The governments of New York and Washington have already begun to crack down and slow the spread of the disease, with proposed measures to narrow the number of immunization exemptions for school children and requiring certain vaccinations for children in daycare.
While these measures are just common sense, the anti-vaxxers are already outraged. Hundreds of protesters in Washington state descended upon the capitol on the day to protest the bill that would take away the right of parents to not vaccinate their children on personal or philosophical grounds to voice their opposition. To return to what was already stated, all of this chaos was caused by a stubborn belief in a disproved medical study, and then a refusal to believe any of that facts that successfully refuted it.
Unfortunately, this problem sounds all too familiar to us by now. The widespread disbelief in scientific fact has been alarming on a number of issues, from climate change to the importance of vaccinations. The consequences of “fake news” are infecting our future, literally at this point. It is imperative that all states to pursue similar legislation to New York and Washington, and delegitimize the platform of anti-vaxxers for the safety of American children.