It is hard to imagine a time before vaccinations. Thanks to vaccines, Serious, life-threatening illnesses that once dominated the world no longer have the power to devastate. Many schools around the world have policies in place that require their students to receive certain vaccines before they are allowed to attend. For instance, Baylor requires students to receive the meningococcal vaccine before they can enroll in classes, as do most other colleges. Moreover, states have the ability to mandate an exemption to these requirements as they see fit. For example, California requires students to be fully vaccinated however, they do allow medical and nonmedical exemptions. Nonmedical exemptions include philosophical, personal, or religious beliefs against receiving vaccinations (Jones n.p.). As important as these exemptions are, vaccinations are often misunderstood by parents around the nation and, in turn, lead to numerous exemption reports.
While exemptions are needed in some cases, many suspect parents are too quick to decide not to vaccinate their children; some parents do not vaccinate out of sheer inconvenience, such as the difficulty in obtaining vaccination records. For that reason, educating parents on the facts behind vaccinations is crucial before making any decisions. Vaccinations are an important part in protecting one’s society from serious illnesses. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Services, bodies are essentially immune to certain diseases once a person has contracted it, also known as “naturally acquired immunity” (Understanding Vaccines 4). Vaccines, on the other hand, are what one would call “artificially acquired immunity” (Understanding Vaccines 4). This idea means that a patient is unnaturally exposed to the virus in a controlled way, such as using an inactivated or weakened strand of the virus, in order to build up resistance. Consequently, immunity is accomplished with the help of defense particles known as antibodies.
Vaccines work by forcing the body to create antibodies for specific diseases. These antibodies then stay programmed in the immune system and allow the body to fight off infections once exposed. The more people who acquire immunity to specific diseases, the less likely they are to pass it on (Understanding Vaccines 4). As a result, vaccines prevent epic outbreaks and protect the community from widespread illnesses. One takeaway is that communities with a large number of vaccinated people are far better protected from preventable ailments. Vaccines are vital for this reason. Gaining antibodies in a controlled setting is better, and perhaps more cost effective, than naturally acquiring an illness and facing nasty symptoms and enormous hospital bills as a result.
Vaccines remain an important step in preventing serious illnesses. For example, polio is a deadly disease that once dominated in the 1940s. With the creation of the polio vaccine, the United States has been polio-free since 1979 (Vaccines: VPD n.p.). As a result, polio no longer threatens the lives of children as they did in the 1940s. Vaccines play a huge role in maintaining health in communities by slowing the spread of illnesses, preventing outbreaks, and eliminating deadly diseases altogether, in the case of polio. The CDC recommends four total doses of the inactivated polio vaccine, also known as ‘IPV’, during a span of four to six years. Following these guidelines ensures that we stay protected against polio and “maintain high immunity” (Vaccines: VPD n.p.).
Abiding by these recommendations set in place by the CDC also ensures that 99 out of 100 children are protected (Vaccines: VPD n.p.). Vaccines provide a sense of certainty for parents, knowing that their children aren’t going to be exposed to life-threatening illnesses. Living through the COVID-19 pandemic with no end in sight is scary. Hearing about the thousands of cases on the news is unsettling, but one can hope that scientists will discover a vaccine for the illness, like they did with polio. All this in mind, vaccines cannot prevent new viruses or stop them from mutating, but they can prevent the return of diseases that once devastated entire nations. While all this may be true, some parents believe that vaccines are indeed harmful to the health and well-being of their children.
Understanding why some parents may object to vaccines is essential to uncovering why exemption rates for school-aged children continue to rise. In her book “Calling the Shots”, Jennifer Reich discloses that the CDC illustrates vaccines as a “one-size-fits-all”, and that all children are essentially the same (Reich 67). This notion fails to acknowledge a child’s individual needs. Unsurprisingly, parents feel that they are the “expert” on such a decision because they know their child intimately. For example, they know their child’s every need along with their vulnerabilities (Reich 70).
Many parents choose not to vaccinate their children for the simple fact that it’s unnatural. These parents preserve their kid’s body from the moment they are born; making sure nothing artificial is added. To them, “these interventions seem unnecessary, unnatural and even dangerous” (Reich 102). Fear is also a driving factor in choice to not vaccinate. One parent even admits she is afraid to vaccinate her child due to the possibility of having “some kind of adverse reaction to vaccines” (Reich 236). In spite of all this, resistance towards vaccines display a “sense of entitlement” amongst critics (Reich 237). Parents who choose not to vaccinate demand access to public resources while also neglecting their “public obligation” (Reich 237).
The public has a responsibility to protect the community at all costs. One can argue that those who “opt out of community health programs like vaccinations aren’t entitled to community participation” (Reich 237-8). While doing this may be extreme, something must be done in order to protect the community from vaccine-preventable diseases. It is important to consider the consequences of this decision and how it affects the community as a whole.
Unvaccinated children pose a risk on the community by making it more susceptible to easy spread of diseases. Trusting vaccines to protect children from preventable childhood diseases is difficult for some, but the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. For instance, in the state of California, more than 14,000 kindergarteners had a nonmedical exemption on file. Compared to the 2010 statistics, the rate of unvaccinated children in California has risen nearly 17% (Jones n.p.). With that being said, “high rates of nonmedical exemptions have been associated with higher rates of vaccine-preventable diseases” (Demko n.p.). Increasing the rate of vaccinated children is essential for ensuring protection of the community as a whole. In particular, vaccines play a role in “herd immunity”. To explain, the more people who are vaccinated for a specific illness, the less likely the community will be affected (Understanding Vaccines 5). Without herd immunity, diseases have the ability to spread quickly and even have a reoccurrence.
The recent measles outbreak in California is the perfect example of how a large number of unvaccinated children threaten the health of the community as a whole. A disease that was once thought to be controlled through vaccines had once again made an unwelcomed appearance. Measles, a contagious disease, begins by causing high fever, cough, and a runny nose. Shortly after the initial exposure, a rash will begin to develop. From here, complications can arise, such as pneumonia, leaving the patient at risk. If one person in a community has measles, nearly 90% of the people close to him or her at the time will be infected (Measles Cases n.p.). For this reason, preventing this awful disease through vaccination is necessary.
From January through December of 2019, more than a thousand cases were confirmed in 31 states; this being the greatest number of cases since 1992 (Measles Cases n.p.). According to the CDC, majority of these cases were unvaccinated and were more likely to spread in communities that had unvaccinated clusters (Measles Cases n.p.). In December 2014, over 140 people were infected with measles after an outbreak in Disneyland (Reich 3). The rate of unvaccinated children rapidly increasing may be to blame. Considering that measles is highly contagious, keeping it contained is difficult. Requiring the measles vaccine allows a city to be confident that the spread of measles will be minimal. All in all, the more measles continues to spread throughout the nation, the more important vaccinating becomes in preventing states of disaster. While preventable diseases are becoming more prevalent, the decision to remain unvaccinated must not be taken lightly.
Parents have the right to forego vaccinating their child based on personal beliefs. However, in some cases, the exemption laws are being abused. Some parents are relying on “persuasive storytelling” within blogs to make decisions regarding vaccines (Tangherlini n.p.). How social media influences this is crucial to negating this problem in the future. Social media is a platform where most people have access to anything they desire- whether it be writing blogs about their lifestyles, how-to tutorials, or participating in discussions. Regardless, this platform allows people to tell their stories. According to Timothy Tangherlini, these blogs provide a way for parents to “shar[e] successful strategies for avoiding [vaccines], with exemption being the foremost among these strategies” (Tangherlini n.p.).
Though vaccines have been proven safe and effective, parents are fueling discussions online with reasons why they believe vaccines are bad and providing parents with a way to avoid them. Encouraging parents through social media to forego vaccinations based on personal beliefs has affected the rising rates of nonmedical exemptions. Blogs relating to vaccine exemptions can be viewed at any time by anyone around the world. Tangherlini’s study shows that these posts receive nearly 20 million views. Like social media, these posts have an impact and contain “alleged threat[s] [that] could convert some parents to embracing these beliefs” (Tangherlini n.p.). The post itself isn’t the issue, but rather how one interprets the post and uses it to avoid vaccinations. It is important to make decisions based on factual information rather than biased posts. These blogs, however, are not the only reason causing a rise in nonmedical exemptions.
Ease in attaining an exemption may be one of the root causes in the increase of nonmedical exemptions throughout the nation. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, states that allowed both personal belief and religious exemptions had exemption rates that were roughly two times higher than in states that only allowed religious exemptions (Demko n.p.). The researchers assert that states are better off when they change “the balance of convenience in favor of vaccination and away from nonmedical exemption[s]” (Demko n.p.). In addition to this, studies actually support the idea that “obtaining an exemption is actually simpler and less time-consuming than meeting vaccination requirements” (Constable n.p.). Altering these policies to make receiving vaccines easier than exempting them is much needed in order to combat this issue. Making vaccination exemptions harder to acquire has the potential to lower the rate of nonmedical exemptions.
Actions are already being taken in order to correct the lenient vaccine exemption laws currently in place. Michigan, for example, passed a law that would require parents to receive vaccination education from a healthcare provider before being granted an exemption (Navin n.p.). Research shows that this requirement has decreased the number of nonmedical exemptions however, simple education did not discourage some parents from refusing vaccines (Navin n.p.). The goal of making exemptions harder to obtain is to weed out those who get exemptions based on current ease or hassle in obtaining vaccination records. It is nearly impossible to convince every single parent that vaccines are safe for their children.
For that reason, measures are being taken to decrease the rate of nonmedical exemptions and, in turn, protect the community utilizing herd immunity; the more children vaccinated within the community, the lower the risk they have for passing around a vaccine-preventable disease. While it is likely that parents will still refuse vaccinations even after these laws have been amended, these changes have the potential to decrease the number of nonmedical exemptions. Communities, in turn, will be better protected.
Overall, vaccines have assisted the medical community in combatting and preventing terrible diseases and illnesses. Rather than choosing to avoid vaccinations based on inconvenience or supposition, it is important to receive the proper education before granting an exemption of any kind. Even with education, some people may still choose to forego vaccinations. The goal of this isn’t to convince everyone to receive vaccinations, but rather eliminate any falsehoods regarding vaccinations and equip parents with the tools to make the best possible decision for their children’s health. Mandating education requirements for exemptions will help combat the lenient exemption laws set up by the individual states and be the first step in bettering our communities. We need to be responsible with our decisions around vaccinations and consider how the consequences of our actions affect the lives of those around us.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Vaccines
- World Health Organization – Vaccines and Immunization
- National Center for Biotechnology Information – Vaccine Knowledge and Myths
- American Academy of Pediatrics – Immunizations
- Vaccine Information Center
- History of Vaccines and Immunization
- National Institutes of Health – Vaccine Safety: Myths vs. Facts
- KidsHealth – Vaccine Safety: Exposing Myths