The lack of trust in institutions vital to our health, welfare and security continues to grow in the age of Trump.
I have written about the serious threat to both children and communities when parents willingly deny vaccinations for their children. Nonetheless, the risk has grown more dangerous.
The New York Times Editorial Board writes (Jan. 19) that “The World Health Organization has ranked vaccine hesitancy — the growing resistance to widely available lifesaving vaccines — as one of the top 10 health threats in the world for 2019. That news will not come as a surprise in New York City, where the worst measles outbreak in decades is now underway. Nor in California or Minnesota, where similar outbreaks unfolded in 2014 and 2017, respectively.”
The problem, as the Times notes, is that the so-called anti-vaxxers – individuals who believe that vaccinations can cause disorders such as autism – have a greater voice out there than public health experts such as doctors, immunologists, and the mainstream scientific community.
In Texas, The Times reports, “…some 60,000 children remain wholly unvaccinated thanks in part to an aggressive anti-vaccine lobby.”
Yes, Virginia, there is an anti-vaccine lobby.
“On the internet,” The Times continues, “anti-vaccine propaganda has outpaced pro-vaccine public health information. The anti-vaxxers, as they are colloquially known, have hundreds of websites promoting their message, a roster of tech- and media-savvy influencers and an aggressive political arm that includes at least a dozen political action committees.”
To borrow a phrase from the Trump canon, all of this is “Fake News.” However, in fairness to Trump, this particular bit of rampant misinformation was around before he began his campaign.
The consequences of all this false and misleading information has led to “…a surge in outbreaks of measles, mumps, pertussis and other diseases; an increase in influenza deaths; and dismal rates of HPV vaccination, which doctors say could effectively wipe out cervical cancer if it were better utilized. But infectious disease experts warn that things could get much worse. Trust in vaccines is being so thoroughly eroded, they say, that these prevention tools are in danger of becoming useless. The next major disease outbreak ‘will not be due to a lack of preventive technologies,’ Heidi Larson, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, writes in the journal Nature, but to an ‘emotional contagion, digitally enabled.’ ”
Let’s be clear: This has to do with the health and welfare of EVERYONE in our community. So, unless you live on a mountaintop with no physical contact with anyone, you are putting others at risk of disease because of false beliefs.
The Times offers six suggestions with respect to both action and education. In brief:
“Get tough. After the 2014 California measles outbreak, the state eliminated nonmedical exemptions for mandatory vaccinations. After a similar outbreak in Michigan, health officials there began requiring individuals to formally consult with their local health departments before opting out of otherwise-mandatory shots. In both cases, these tougher policies drove up vaccination rates. Other states ought to follow this lead…
“Be savvy. The Vaccine Confidence Project is a London-based academic endeavor that monitors anti-vaccine websites for rumors and conspiracies and addresses them before the messages go viral. It also conducts regular surveys of attitudes and puts out a vaccine confidence index. Federal health officials would do well to implement a similar program…
“Be clear. Vaccines, to some extent, are victims of their own success. In the United States especially, they’ve beaten so many infectious foes into oblivion that hardly any practicing doctors, let alone new parents, remember how terrible those diseases once were. An effective pro-vaccine campaign needs to remind us: Vaccines prevent two million to three million deaths globally each year. …”
And here is the central point the editorial emphasizes:
“Vaccines are not toxic, and they do not cause autism. Full stop.”
“Know the audience. Not every parent with concerns about vaccination is a rabid conspiracy theorist bent on resisting inoculation forever. In fact, studies suggest that less than 2 percent of all parents fall into this category. The rest of vaccine-hesitant families sit along a spectrum. Some reject all vaccines but are still open to receiving information. Others are only worried about one specific vaccine. And others still are merely anxious and looking for reliable information. Any successful campaign will need to mind this diversity and prioritize listening to concerns as much as dispelling myths.
“Enlist the right support. Some doctors and scientists have referred to ‘uneventful vaccination’ as ‘The Greatest Story Never Told.’ Though they may not spread on the internet like the stories of terrible mishaps that anti-vaxxers traffic in, these far more common tales of inoculation without incident can be a powerful elixir for a nervous new parent. The best ambassadors of these stories are likely to be parents themselves. Surveys suggest that pro-vaccine families are often eager to help counter misinformation, but they don’t know where to start.…”
The information age is incredible, but… only if you educate yourself with the correct information, not fantasy or wishful thinking, just decades-proven scientific evidence.