One in five Ontarians siding with ignorance and pseudo-science

Photo: Jeremy Gathany, CC, Wikimedia Commons

A recent outbreak of measles in Canada and the United States has sadly re-energized the anti-vaccine movement. This unfortunate reality is highlighted in a recent survey conducted by Mainstreet Technologies, which finds that 20 per cent of Ontarians believe that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine has a causal relationship with autism.

This vehement movement can be traced back to a study published in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield, which suggested that the vaccine was connected to a regressive developmental disorder. Not only was the article ultimately retracted, having been tarnished by allegations of fraud and refuted by several accredited medical organizations, but Wakefield was also eventually stripped of his medical licence in 2010.

So why do so many people continue to give credence to this illegitimate theory in 2015? Why do so many people refuse to vaccinate themselves and their children at the risk of their personal health and safety?

A lot of this has to do with the fact that a few key celebrities have latched onto Wakefield’s theories and used their position of influence to keep his unfunded theories alive. Figures like Jenny McCarthy, Alicia Silverstone, and Robert Kennedy Jr. have all been particularly reckless about spreading this kind of misguided rhetoric to the general public.

Because of this, many people still think the reason for the increase in diagnoses of autism is the MMR vaccine. But in reality, extensive research into the disorder has simply allowed doctors to recognize more and more cases of autism.

What’s really infuriating about this movement is that its followers are not even willing to do their homework. For every article like Wakefield’s, there are hundreds more refuting all claims of connections of any sort between the MMR vaccine and autism. Maybe if these people took the time to conduct real research, instead of just soliciting advice from Internet comments, their confusion could be assuaged.

This research would tell them that autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder, for which there are multiple plausible causes such as genetics and environmental factors. None of these causes include vaccines.

These anti-vaxxers also don’t realize the danger of not vaccinating oneself or one’s children far outweighs the danger of any hypothetical birth defects attached to getting inoculated. Without the protection of modern medical science, our herd immunity to diseases like mumps and whooping cough—some previously considered eradicated, at least for some time in North America—could drop. As a result, anyone too young to have been vaccinated, or anyone with a compromised immune system, could be exposed and infected. This is especially dangerous in countries like Canada, where immunization is not mandatory.

The measles is a deadly virus that should not be taken lightly. In 2013, the world saw 96,000 deaths associated with the disease—mostly originating from African and West Pacific regions—which very well could have been avoided. Instead of reacting rationally to this medical reality, it seems like the fraudulent claims of a disgraced doctor and a few airheaded celebrities are starting to take hold.

This kind of thinking in the 21st century is abhorrent and backwards, and the individuals who perpetuate this ignorance need to be held accountable for the potential harm they could cause.