Paul Offit has written a great opinion piece (full of awesome science facts) for the Wall Street Journal about vaccinations, or lack thereof. The article highlights the recent outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases in wealthy, educated areas of the USA. Offit gives a history lesson on anti-vaccine movements (that’s right California, this fad happened in Japan in the 1970’s: not vaccinating is lame and tired):
Parents might consider what has happened in other countries when large numbers of parents chose not to vaccinate their children. Japan, for example, which had virtually eliminated whooping cough by 1974, suffered an anti-vaccine activist movement that caused vaccine rates to fall to 10% in 1976 from 80% in 1974. In 1979, more than 13,000 cases of whooping cough and 41 deaths occurred as a result.
41 preventable deaths and who knows how many other complications from the 13,000 cases of a preventable disease! So sad. Offit gives one possible explanation for why people, especially educated, wealthy parents have stopped vaccinating.
We simply don’t fear these diseases anymore. My parents’ generation—children of the 1920s and 1930s—needed no convincing to vaccinate their children. They saw that whooping cough could kill as many as 8,000 babies a year. You didn’t have to convince my generation—children of the 1950s and 1960s—to vaccinate our children. We had many of these diseases, like measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox. But young parents today don’t see the effects of vaccine-preventable diseases and they didn’t grow up with them. For them, vaccination has become an act of faith.
Correct! Many of the diseases that we vaccinate against are gone from the public eye, but are in fact horrible diseases that can be fatal, especially in children. This is why scientists created vaccines for them. Vaccines against diseases were once celebrated! and the scientists behind them were Nobel Prize winners! But now that people have forgotten the huge impact of these diseases, vaccines are seen as unnecessary, and scientists are seen as drug-pushers. Unfortunately, Offit explains that recent outbreaks of these vaccine preventable diseases has not rallied parents to vaccinate their children. Rates of vaccination remain unchanged following the outbreaks.
Because we’re unwilling to learn from history, we are starting to relive it. And children are the victims of our ignorance. An ignorance that, ironically, is cloaked in education, wealth and privilege.