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Rich Manieri: Anti-vaxxers are a threat to all of us

February 16, 2019

We are seeing, in real time, what happens when you get your medical advice from YouTube.

There are measles outbreaks in Washington, Oregon and New York, and it’s only a matter of time until more states are added to the emergency list if this foolishness continues.

It should surprise no one that the outbreaks are occurring in areas with high concentrations of unimmunized children.

There is plenty of blame to go around, including but not limited to the handful of crackpots who insist on perpetrating the fraud that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine causes autism.

This theory has been debunked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Mayo Clinic, the American Medical Association, physicians worldwide and the medical community at large.

Still, the relatively small but extremely scary anti-immunization community continues to flout the evidence and insists on believing people such as Dr. David Ayoub, one of the fathers of the anti-vaxxer movement, whom The New Yorker profiled in 2018.

“Now, as you know, there’s science that links vaccines with autism,” Ayoub said. “Why isn’t that science believed? Well, it’s attacked. It’s marginalized because there are competing papers, generally very flawed papers, which refute their claims. [They] design studies in order to give the answer that they want. That’s going to happen when you have an industry this strong. The government is a big industry.”

This kind of nuttery is akin to “truther” theories that the U.S. government was behind 9/11.

It would be easy to dismiss contrarians like Ayoub as quacks who received their medical degrees from Hasbro. The problem is this anti-vaxxer movement is now getting real, and there isn’t much anyone can do about.

Most states, with the exception of Mississippi, West Virginia and California, allow parents to opt out of immunizations for personal beliefs or religious reasons.

Regarding the latter, as a Christian and avid reader of the Bible, I can say with 100-percent certainty that there is nothing in Scripture that prevents or discourages medical care, which we can safely assume includes vaccinations to protect children from horrible diseases. To suggest otherwise is legalistic, externalist nonsense.

Regarding the former, a “personal belief” that your child shouldn’t be immunized isn’t good enough, not by a long-shot. This is something at which 47 states need to take a hard look, and not give parents an easy out by requiring them to do nothing more than fill out a form.

Perhaps we’re approaching anti-vaxxers the wrong way. Let’s try a little history. Google Dr. Edward Jenner.

Or, I can save everyone the trouble and tell you that he was the English physician who developed the vaccine for smallpox, which was killing 400,000 people a year in Europe in the 1800s.

More recently, how about Jonas Salk? He came up with a vaccine for polio in the 1950s. In 1952, polio killed some 3,000 Americans.

Keep in mind that if you refuse to immunize, it’s not just about you and your child. You risk infecting other people, which is exactly what’s happening. And it isn’t only measles. Very much in play once again are chickenpox, whooping cough, and yes, polio.

“Scenarios for polio being introduced into the United States are easy to imagine, and the disease could get a foothold if we don’t maintain high vaccination rates,” according the CDC’s Dr. Greg Wallace in an article on cdc.gov. Wallace specializes in viral diseases.

“For example, an unvaccinated U.S. resident could travel abroad and become infected before returning home. Or, a visitor to the United States could travel here while infected. The point is, one person infected with polio is all it takes to start the spread of polio to others if they are not protected by vaccination.”

If that doesn’t scare anti-vaxxers, I’m not sure what will. If they’re beyond common sense it’s plausible that they’re beyond fear.

But here’s what they need to realize. They can throw all of scientific data out the window but the evidence still exists. For the last 75 years, vaccines have prevented illness and saved lives.When is the last time you met someone who uses crutches after surviving polio?

Yet, in spite of the overwhelming proof, anti-vaxxers might still be willing to risk their children contracting a preventable disease, one that has the potential to kill.

They might be willing to take such an unnecessary risk.

The rest of us aren’t.

Rich Manieri is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is currently a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky.