Measles. Mumps. Whooping cough. What do these diseases have in common? Thanks to vaccinations, each of these serious diseases was considered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be eliminated or nearly eliminated – until recently. What the CDC didn’t count on was that more and more parents would stop vaccinating their children.
Parents who choose not to vaccinate tend to cite safety concerns, specifically the rumor connecting vaccines with autism. The genesis of the autism-vaccine connection was a now-debunked 1998 study by a British researcher who fabricated the medical histories of every one of his subjects, and, after being exposed of the elaborate fraud in 2011, was stripped of his medical license.
Even though there is no scientific connection between vaccines and autism, nor any valid reason to think shots are unsafe, the myth lives on. Earlier this year, President Trump met with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a proponent of the same discredited theory, and reportedly asked him to lead an official commission investigating vaccine safety. The Autism Science Foundation, a nonprofit that supports research into causes of autism, has even sounded the alarm that vaccines have nothing to do with autism – and that feeding the flames of anti-vaccine sentiment will only put children’s lives at risk.
For proof, look no further than the recent resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases. We’re in the midst of the worse mumps outbreak in a decade, according to the CDC. There have been nearly 3,000 cases during the past year in 45 states and the District of Columbia. That’s compared to just 300 cases in 2000 – a 10-fold increase in just 10 years.
Measles, which was considered to be eliminated in 2000, is also back – thanks to gaps in vaccination. The disease is so contagious that if one person has it, the CDC says 90 percent of the people around him or her will also become infected if they are unvaccinated. There were more than 650 measles cases in 27 states in 2014 – the greatest number of cases in more than a decade. Cases of the measles were reported here in Georgia in both 2015 and 2016, according to the Department of Public Health.
Then there’s whooping cough. California’s worst outbreak of whooping cough, or pertussis, occurred in 2010, after spreading among unvaccinated children and infecting more than 9,000 kids.
These diseases prove that just because a disease isn’t common or has even been eliminated from the U.S., it doesn’t mean that your child can’t catch it. Vaccine-preventable diseases are especially common abroad, and it only takes one sick person to start an outbreak.
As a family physician, I am passionate to make all of us healthier, and the first step is to be vaccinated and to have those you love vaccinated and protected. Vaccines are the best tool we have to prevent disease. For example, thanks to vaccines to prevent meningitis, including the recent development of meningitis B vaccines, all strains of the disease have declined since the 1990s.
If you’re concerned about vaccine safety, talk to your physician. You can even work with your doctor to come up with an alternative vaccine schedule for your child. Just don’t let debunked theories outweigh the scientific evidence that vaccines save lives.
The writer is president of the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians, and a fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians.