Science needs to lead, not fear
Friday, February 10, 2017
As the United States settles into a new era of policymaking under a new presidential administration, hot topics are sure to rise as advocates push to support their causes. One such fiery topic continues to be the link between autism and vaccinations.
Despite proof from years of studies and repeated reassurance from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the myth that vaccines can lead to autism continues to persist.
In a recent New York Times op-ed, Dr. Peter J. Hotez presented the potential complication of revisiting this already-quenched topic. Instead of focusing on these myths, Hotez suggests that attention should be directed to investigating the actual causes of autism or, more importantly, "the real needs of families with children on the autism spectrum, such as mental health services, work-entry programs for adults and support for the research being done by the National Institutes of Health."
Public health efforts need to be directed toward the benefits of vaccinations, not only for the individual, but also for society at large.
As Hoetz discussed, the resurgence of measles will likely be the first indication that the anti-vaccination movement is gaining traction — and it will not be good for the public, especially those not vaccinated. While many have forgotten the major measles outbreaks of the past, the respect for this highly contagious disease becomes unchecked.
This lack of respect and ignorance for the facts leads parents to not vaccinate their children, which in turn creates vectors of transmission should an outbreak occur. As recently as 2015, Disneyland in California became the hot bed of a large, multistate measles outbreak. With at least 145 cases, epidemiologists concluded that vaccine refusal fueled the outbreak.
In early January, President Donald Trump met with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who has been a proponent of the theory that vaccines can cause autism. After the meeting, speculations began to swirl when Kennedy stated he was planning to chair a commission on vaccine safety as part of the new administration.
Earlier this week, on Feb. 7, a letter from more than 350 organizations led by the American Association of Pediatrics was sent to Trump "expressing their unequivocal support for the safety of vaccines."
No one wants to be an alarmist, but considering babies are not vaccinated with MMR until 12 months of age, any exposure puts them at serious, unnecessary risk. As Hoetz points out, instead of continuing the myth that links autism to vaccines, concerned parents should worry that their unvaccinated children are carrying and spreading a preventable disease. This quickly turns a trip to the mall or an amusement park into an unnecessary illness for possibly hundreds.
As talks continue, the hope is that science will prevail and efforts and funding can be directed to areas of greater need.
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