Everyone hates being sick. It gets in the way of work and school and in more severe cases can be costly with doctor visits and medical bills. Aside from daily habits that keep people healthy, vaccines are a way to prevent some of the more serious diseases like measles, chickenpox, and the flu. They are required in many European countries, but in the United States they are optional, and only may be required for certain schools or jobs. Despite the benefits of getting vaccinated, many Americans are taking advantage of this optional status and not getting them, even though they risk getting themselves and others sick.
There has long been skepticism surrounding the fields of science and medicine, but in the case of vaccines, Americans have begun to trust doctors less in recent years. Conspiracy theories, especially a false belief that vaccines cause autism, and other diseases, fuel this skepticism. Some people take this even further to suggest that not only do vaccines cause autism, but that doctors, scientists, and government officials know about it and continue to vaccinate their patients anyway. Of course, this is all a lie, but the anti-vaccine movement continues to hold onto it.
The myth did not simply appear out of thin air, but instead was a product of faulty science. In 1998, a British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, published a paper claiming a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. His work caused vaccination rates to drop, but it was debunked by other papers which came after his, and he was exposed for using fake evidence and being unethical. He was banned from practicing medicine and the paper was retracted in 2010, but became something of a celebrity among conspiracy theorists.
The people who latched on to the fake report then took it a step further when their protests failed to prevent children from getting vaccines. Of course, the reason no action was taken is that vaccines are not actually dangerous and there are constant improvements being made to ensure safety and effectiveness. Anti-vaxxers believed that because nothing was being done to stop vaccinations, all medical professionals must be completely uninformed about their own practices, brainwashed, or indifferent. Each of these conclusions is absurd, considering how massive the corruption of the medical practice would have to be with absolutely no motive behind it.
The facts are simple: vaccines are safe, they do not cause any other diseases, and there is no large scale coverup within the medical profession. Unfortunately, a combination of misunderstanding medicine and conspiratorial tendencies turned many Americans into anti-vaxxers. Even those who may not even be conspiracy theorists are not getting vaccinated. A survey from 2018 showed that 56 percent of Americans had not yet gotten a flu shot in November and 74 percent of them did not plan to. Almost a third of the people who did not plan to get a flu shot said that their belief that vaccines are ineffective was a major reason in their decision, and a similar number said they believed the vaccine would actually give them the flu. It should not have to be said that it is better to listen to your doctor than Jenny McCarthy, but apparently the American public did not understand this, because in 2009, 42 percent of people who heard her statements said they were more likely to question vaccines because of her.
It has been established over and over again that vaccines are safe and that there is no vaccine conspiracy, but unfortunately there are some people who continue to refuse the facts. Being unvaccinated is not only a personal risk, but a risk for everyone else around. Some of the illnesses that vaccines prevent are not simply an annoyance, but a serious danger. That danger is even greater in people who have weakened immune systems, some of whom cannot get vaccinated and rely on a concept known as herd immunity. Basically, once enough people get vaccinated, the risk of disease spreading is lowered enough to protect those who can’t get vaccinated themselves. As more people refuse to get vaccinated, their choice is no longer a personal one, but a decision that impacts the people around them who did not have a choice themselves. Just because it is possible to live without vaccines and it is possible to get over illnesses does not mean we should. Most people would not like to go back to the days of smallpox and polio.
Besides the great health risks, the trust in conspiracies and self- diagnosis over doctors and science is an unfortunate trend in the twenty-first century. The advancements in medicine that the world has made over time have increased people’s lifespan, discovered cures to once incurable diseases, and generally improved quality of life. But as people start to distrust doctors, progress starts to slide backwards. Eating kale and doing yoga can only help so much. Doctors aren’t perfect, but they’re not part of a plot to destroy us. An occasional misstep is not justification for discrediting the entire medical field when improvements are constantly being made to fix them. Doctors save lives. Vaccines save lives. Anti-vaxx conspiracies do nothing but hurt progress and put everyone else at risk.