The year 2000 was the start of a new millennium and was a year that was marked by bad AOL screen names, getting movies from the Blockbuster down the street, slap bracelets, and listening to music from the Backstreet Boys. Most notably however, 2000 was the year that measles was declared eliminated in the United States. By then, I had already been vaccinated against the disease like most young children at the time and my parents did not think twice about whether or not I should get the vaccine. This was a time when not vaccinating your child would have been considered insane as it was before misinformation regarding vaccines spread like wildfire over the internet.
Flash forward 19 years and there are measles outbreaks all over the country, from coast to coast in states such as California, New York and New Jersey. So what happened in those 19 years? People read about the so-called dangers of vaccines through various sources such as online blogs, forums and social media and avoided vaccinating their children in fear of them becoming autistic, which has thus lead to lower vaccination rates overall and caused outbreaks of a disease that had once been completely eradicated in the United States. In fact, there was a recent outbreak in Clark County, Washington, which was recently reported on by Gillian Flaccus through the Associated Press. The article, which was found on the 69 News website, cites that the vaccination rate in Clark County is 78%, far below what is needed for herd immunity to protect those who cannot get vaccinated. Overall, the vaccine is 93-97% effective and the most common reason that people avoid getting their children vaccinated is not because they doubt its effectiveness; it's because they are afraid that it causes autism. While there is extensive research that shows that vaccines don't cause autism, here lies the saddest and one of the most deeply problematic points of the entire anti-vaxxer movement: these parents would rather have their child be sick and possibly die of a very preventable disease than have a child with autism.
Unlike many of the preventable diseases that these parents refuse to vaccinate against, autism is not life-threatening and autistic children have the same capacity to be kind, creative and intelligent as other children. I should know, I grew up with an older sister who is on the autism spectrum. Although she sometimes needed a little extra help, she has a bubbly and thoughtful personality and is a great sister and friend. She already has an Associate's Degree in psychology and is looking for programs to get her Bachelor's Degree. People need to learn that people with autism are not part of some scary statistic, but instead are normal people living productive lives. Many of them are college educated, hold jobs and have relationships just like everybody else. The only difference between people who live with autism and the rest of the population is that they experience the world differently and sometimes need extra help and resources in order to succeed and become more independent. It is vastly important to not only help autistic people be able to access these resources, but to also destroy the stigma that makes people so afraid of their children having the disorder that they are willing to put their health at risk. While the fear of children developing autism from vaccines is irrational as the evidence shows that vaccines do not cause autism, this fear is somewhat understandable when you consider the amount of stigma that exists in society when it comes to developmental disorders such as autism. Once this stigma is erased and parents conquer their fear of autism and thus their fear of vaccines, we will be one step closer to living in a world free from measles outbreaks once again.