By Erin Keating:
A recent rise of measles is once again bringing the anti-vaccination movement to light. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 228 cases of measles have been recorded in the United States this year alone. Doctors and researchers are once again warning parents that choosing to not vaccinate their children reaps dangerous results.
Historically, parents who chose not to vaccinate their children base their decision on what is being called “vaccine hesitancy,” according to the World Health Organization. Vaccine hesitancy is the reluctance to participate in vaccinations due to public debate regarding its results. The organization claims that vaccine hesitancy is one of the top ten global health threats of 2019.
At the forefront of vaccine hesitancy is the now retracted Dr. Andrew Wakefield study. Wakefield and a team of colleagues concluded that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine could lead to autism. Although this study has been retracted, its repercussions are still felt throughout the world. Parents have in turn refused to vaccinate their children for fear of putting their child at risk for autism.
Since then, multiple studies have been done disproving Wakefield’s study, including the largest and most recent study published in the journal, Annals of Internal Medicine. A team conducting a study of 650,000 children who received their MMR vaccination found that only 6,517 of these children were diagnosed with autism. It was concluded that there was no evidence of an increased risk of autism in children who had their MMR vaccine, whether they were considered at risk or not.
“This idea that vaccines cause autism is still around and is still getting a lot of exposure in social media,” says Anders Hviid who was the lead study author, according to CNN. Hviid is just one of the many researchers that claim social media has heightened vaccine hesitancy. Anti-vaccine groups and movements target parents on social media regarding false claims circling vaccinations leading to autism.
In return, the American Medical Association has asked technology companies to join the fight against this vaccine hesitancy. The heads of Amazon, Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube received a letter Wednesday from the AMA asking to help stop the spread of misinformation regarding vaccines. The other tech companies say they are working to address the issue, such as Pinterest announcing last month, they have blocked any vaccine searches on their platform.
CBS Evening News reported a case of one teenager defying his parents and receiving his vaccinations on his own. High school senior Ethan Lindenberger says he had to educate his parents on the disproven theory behind their own vaccine hesitancy.
The issue sparked the interest of Assumption College Associate Professor of Biology, Michele Lemons, who learned her students were interested in where this “vaccine hesitancy” came from. In turn, Lemons had her students participate in a study where they researched the original Wakefield study. The students, including junior Lily O’Connor, discovered that Wakefield’s study was disproved and Lemons, with a neuroscience background, “informed us that there was no known link between the two vaccinations and autism.” O’Connor says “it was an interesting way to learn about a trending topic that I can definitely apply when I read about anti-vax arguments.”
Even though it has been over twenty years since Wakefield’s now disproven study, there is still a large population of people involved in the anti-vaccination movement. Thanks to social media, this movement has grown exponentially, leaving doctors and researchers frustrated about the repercussions of an already disproven theory.