Anti-vaxxer movement endangers everyone

Josephine MacLean

Immunization is recommended by the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and a whole bunch of other experts. Scientifically speaking, the myths about vaccines have been debunked: they do not cause autism, infants can indeed handle them, natural immunity is not better and herd immunity is a thing. In credible scientific circles, there is no debate.

 

Unfortunately that’s not true for the rest of the public conscious. In Texas, one of 18 states with vaccine exemptions, avoiding immunization is pretty easy to do, and more and more parents are opting their kids out.

 

Sherry Bell is the senior program coordinator of University Health Services Consumer Education and Outreach. Bell and her team at UHS can’t provide opinions about policy or political movements. However, she did say parents and students are able to opt out through a state-mandated form.

 

“While students are strongly encouraged to consult with a physician about the need for immunizations before requesting an exemption, Texas law provides a method for students … to obtain an exemption from vaccine requirements for reasons of conscience, including religious beliefs,” Bell said in an email.

 

Since 2003, there’s been a 19-fold increase in the number of children entering Texas schools unvaccinated. And surprise, there’s also been a rise in outbreaks of contagious diseases.

 

But, if the science is so clear, why do entities like the Texas Republican Party, whose 2016 Party Platform supports exemptions, persist in ignoring it? Why is the Bexar county district attorney still making Youtube videos for anti-vaxxing? It has something to do with psychology.

 

According to Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke from NPR’s radio show “Two Guys on Your Head”, when personal beliefs and science are in conflict, people often chose to resolve the dilemma by rejecting science. Markman and Duke explain this theory using climate change as the example, but it’s also applicable to the anti-vaxxer movement.

 

When science says one thing, but an individual doesn’t want it to be true, it creates cognitive dissonance. Because if it turns out the science is right, the individual is a “jerk”. But, if you can convince yourself that the science, which you might not fully understand, is wrong, you’re no longer a jerk (in your own head at least).

 

This method of satisfying your cognitive dissonance is actually a pretty horrible idea because it means more and more people can deny science, which will work against us in the long term.

One father writes on his blog, The People’s Chemist, “After all, if vaccines truly worked, then why would vaccinated kids be at risk [from my unvaccinated children]?”

 

This is simply misunderstanding the science behind immunizations. Vaccines are not 100% effective every time, because that’s scientifically impossible in medicine. Luckily, scientific sources are pretty clear about this. Many vaccines are about 90-100% effective, but as long most people are vaccinated, it protects those who received an ineffective vaccination.

 

What it comes down to is this: by not vaccinating your child, you put other children at risk too, and that’s just a jerk move. So next time you have some cognitive dissonance to resolve, please, err on the side of science.

MacLean is an advertising sophomore from Austin. Follow her on twitter @maclean_josie