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Don’t Fear the Needle

Smallpox has killed hundreds of millions of people throughout centuries. It is accountable for more deaths than all the world wars combined. In 1921, there were over 100,000 reported cases of smallpox in the United States. Thanks to vaccines, the disease has been eradicated. A child growing up in America today has no chance of contracting small pox, and it was eradicated worldwide in 1980.

The eradication of smallpox is due to the scientific miracle of vaccines. Because of vaccines and their distribution among population, the disease that was once the scourge of mankind no longer exists. So why is it that some parents today question the efficacy of vaccines and fear side effects?

Unsurprisingly, the media is responsible for much of the fear surrounding vaccinations. One of the main ways this can happen is through a psychological phenomenon called ‘heuristic thinking.’ Specifically, its something called ‘availability heuristic.’ Heuristic learning and thinking refers to acting based on experience. So ‘availability heuristic’ refers to drawing on whatever experiences we may have available to draw conclusions about a problem.

People tend to immediately judge whether something is true based on how easily these examples come to mind. For example, if someone says that smoking leads to early death, you may remember that your grandfather smoked two packs a day but lived to be one hundred. Your grandfather could have been a medical anomaly, but because you have the experience of seeing him live so long despite smoking, your subconscious concludes that smoking is not dangerous.

Such has become the case with vaccines. One widespread fear relating to vaccines stems from a 1998 paper written by British doctor Andrew Wakefield. In the paper, Wakefield infamously linked autism with the vaccination for measles, mumps, and rubella. Despite widespread criticism and formal discrediting of his work, the myth still perpetuates western society today. Because of its popularity, more and more parents are opting not to have their kids get essential vaccinations.

A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics revealed that over 1 in 10 parents pursue an alternate vaccination schedule for their kids. This can mean anything from delaying what age their child gets vaccines to not giving their kids vaccines all together.

In most states, children are legally required to have certain vaccines to attend school. But in many states it is now possible for parents to opt out of getting their children vaccinated. The reason? Vaccinations may be against their “personal or philosophical (including religious) belief.”

So what’s the big deal if parents don’t get their kids vaccinated? Shouldn’t they have the right to control what goes in their kids bodies? That sounds like a good principle, but the fact is that not getting kids vaccinated affects the health of other kids, and the entire community. A serious concern of the CDC is potential outbreaks of diseases caused by un vaccinated Americans traveling to places where diseases that have been eradicated here are still prevalent. An outbreak of measles after last year’s Super Bowl in Indianapolis sparked debate over vaccination policies.

The facts are that vaccinations have been widely proven to save millions of lives, and negative effects of vaccination are nothing but misinformation that has become widely believed for irrational reasons. Governments should not be so deferential to parental authority that they put the lives of others at risk.

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