add_theme_support( 'post-thumbnails' );Dear Anti Vaxxers, - BANG.
Kate McCabe / Gavel Media

Dear Anti Vaxxers,

If you are of the ridiculous, ignorant, uneducated mindset that you don’t have to vaccinate your child, please do the rest of us a favor and don’t have children.

Ever since Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor who has since been discredited, published a study arguing that childhood vaccinations correlate with the rise in Autism Spectrum Disorder, there has a disturbing trend in America in which parents are making the decision not to vaccinate their children. This has been the subject of heated debate from both sides, with pro-vaxxers (the overwhelming majority of the country) citing the decades of scientific research supporting the safety and efficacy of vaccines, and anti-vaxxers claiming that it is their choice to make health decisions for their children.

This has culminated in disaster. In 2019, in the United States of America, there is a measles outbreak that has now infected over 50 people.

The disease, formerly extremely rare in modern America, took hold in Oregon and Washington State, which have some of the lowest childhood vaccination rates in the country. Fortunately, this has spurred many parents of unvaccinated children to rush for the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) shot to protect them from the outbreak, but this sentiment is far too late. The fact that common sense parenting only kicks in after the outbreak of an archaic disease is a huge, potentially deadly, problem. Furthermore, the more stubborn anti-vaxxers continue to keep their children helpless in the midst of this crisis, again leaning on the assumption that they, as parents, have the right to manage the health of their children.

The heart of this argument is not only flawed, but rooted in a problematic and outdated mindset that children are the property of their parents. In the United States, the simple fact is that parents do not have the right to make a wide variety of decisions that are harmful to their children’s health. In 1993, for example, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts convicted David and Ginger Twitchell, a couple of devout Christian Scientists, of involuntary manslaughter for choosing to rely on prayer for their son’s serious bowel condition instead of modern medicine. Their inaction caused the death of their child, and they were held responsible for this despite their personal beliefs, as parents do not have the right to let their children die of a preventable illness. That is neglect. That is child abuse.

Children don’t have all the mental faculties, experience, and knowledge to make decisions for themselves, so of course, parents make many decisions for them. Once these decisions cross over from benign choices about what to wear and where to go to school and into issues of physical safety, however, they become something more than just matters of opinion. Parents have absolutely no right to cause their children physical harm and put their lives at risk, and to think that they do is to devalue their child as an individual human person. You can choose to throw a toy away or not, because it’s an object. You can choose to smash your car with a sledgehammer, because it’s your property. You can’t choose to hurt your child, because a child is not your property, and it’s not an extension of your beliefs.

The CDC states that although an explicit clinical trial comparing the long-term health effects of unvaccinated vs vaccinated children would be unethical, the likelihood that vaccines cause long-lasting problems is “extremely low.” This introduces the next fundamental crack in the anti-vaxxers’ argument: it is wrong.

A British doctor named Andrew Wakefield triggered this fiasco when he published a “study” in 1998 claiming to have found data that suggested that the MMR vaccine was linked to the development of autism in young children. This was swiftly refuted by a number of real research studies, which repeatedly found and continue to find today absolutely no link between the MMR vaccine and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Soon after this, 10 of the 12 authors of the research paper retracted their support for the paper’s conclusion, saying their data was not strong enough to indicate causation between the vaccine and autism.

Allow me to break down Andrew Wakefield further. Before his study, he wrote on the possibility of a link between the MMR and Crohn’s Disease, which was disproven. During the study, he utilized a whopping sample size of 12 children to reach his conclusion that the MMR vaccine is instead linked to autism, which, as stated above, was disproven. Not only was it disproven, but it was found that Wakefield and his team did not disclose their financial interests, conducted invasive tests on children without the proper authorization, and falsified multiple elements of the paper. He has since been banned from practicing medicine in Great Britain.

The signs all point to the fact that vaccines do not cause autism, and yet a growing number of parents continue to buy into the nonsense of a disgraced charlatan, putting thousands of lives at risk.

That is the final and biggest flaw in the anti-vaxxer argument: ignorant disregard for other people’s lives. It is more than their own children at risk; it’s children who are too young to get the vaccine, children who are undergoing chemotherapy, children who don’t have immune-systems strong enough to cope with the vaccine…or measles. The lack of scientific integrity in the community is disturbing, but the lack of empathy is disgusting.

Measles still kills hundreds of people each year worldwide, and it could still kill hundreds of immunocompromised and unvaccinated people in the United States. This article isn’t for anti-vaxxers; I can only dream of reaching them, but to everyone else, let’s keep this herd immunity thing going and continue to get vaccinated, if only to protect the children whose parents chose for them.

Meaghan Wallace is a biology major and journalism minor at Boston College who writes bios and Gavel articles to avoid doing physics homework.