Most people assume that the anti-vaccination movement is something born of our modern times, where normal for us is everyone not dying of polio, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, adenovirus, rabies and hepatitis A. “If these people lived in our grandparent’s day,” we tell ourselves, “they wouldn’t think twice about getting vaccinated.”
This is probably true but the anti-vaccination movement has been going strong ever since the smallpox vaccination was released. In fact, the recent murmurings of people having their rights impinged if they choose not to get their kids vaccinated isn’t new either. In recent times headlines have been made about a school in Michigan changing its admittance records in 2015 to stop kids who hadn’t been vaccinated to be admitted to the school. In the same year Australia enforced an $11k tax penalty nicknamed ‘no jab, no pay,’ to parents who wouldn’t go through with the vaccinations.
This power struggle is nothing new. In the 1840s the UK instituted the Vaccination Act which provided poor families with immunisations for newborns and young children. Parents who opted out were made liable for a fine all the way up to imprisonment. Public health was no joke!
This was the first time government got involved in what was previously a private institution of personal healthcare, and has continued to this day as a struggle of personal civil rights over greater societal health.
However the benefits of vaccinations can’t be overlooked. A single cell strain WI-38 developed in 1962 has saved approximately 10 million people according to a new study released by AIMS Public Health. This estimate is based on pre 1960 levels of each of the diseases it prevented (polio, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, adenovirus, rabies and hepatitis A).
WI-38 is derived from lung tissue of an aborted white (caucasian) female fetus, and over a billion vaccine doses can be traced back to the early research done with it. WI-38 is used to produce a variety of vaccines including Adenovirus, MMR, Varicella and Zoster virus. I think at this point in our story I might be upsetting the pro-lifers more than anyone else.
“Vaccination is a particularly important issue to think about now, given the rise of an anti-vaccine movement that has the potential to reverse the health gains achieved through one of the most powerful interventions in medical history,” said Leonard Hayflick, developer of WI-38. “The anti-vaccination movement endangers the health of an entire generation of children.”
Currently we rely on the concept of herd immunity to protect ourselves from a mass outbreak. The idea is that when a sufficient percentage of our population is immunised it limits any potential spread and protects the unimmunised from a major outbreak. Once the chance of an outbreak is low (who even has polio these days), it can seem to a lot of people that vaccination isn’t worth the perceived risk.
This perceived risk culminates in the fear that children may develop disfigurements or autism. The fears around autism cropped up in 1998 after a fraudulent report published by The Lancet drew a link between the combined measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism spectrum disorders. The author of the study, Andrew Wakefield, was found to have multiple conflicts of interest, and manipulated data among other ethical misconduct.
This didn’t stop other studies from multiple groups from being launched however, looking into the claims. All found no evidence between autism and MMR. However, it is safe to presume, that if it were the case, it’s better to catch some autism than a mild case of death.