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Are Vaccines a Choice?

Vaccine nationalism and scientific reasoning

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  • Preventable diseases are on the rise in the United States and Europe. [TIME]

  • A minority of parents believe vaccines do more harm than good and choose to not have their children vaccinated. 

  • According to the Cleveland Clinic, "approximately 42,000 adults and 300 children in the U.S. die each year from diseases that vaccines could have prevented." [The Cleveland Clinic]

  • For measles, the CDC reports the vaccine is 97% effective in preventing the disease. [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]

  •  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a vaccine is "a biological preparation that improves immunity to a particular disease." [World Health Organization]
  • "A vaccine typically contains an agent that resembles a disease-causing microorganism and is often made from weakened or killed forms of the microbe, its toxins or one of its surface proteins...

  • The agent stimulates the body's immune system to recognize the agent as foreign, destroy it, and 'remember' it so that the immune system can more easily recognize and destroy any of these microorganisms that it later encounters." [World Health Organization]

  • Read the CDC's fact sheet on measles.

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SOCIAL: Vaccinations are a choice; however, it is important to know that your choice comes at the potential price of the health and well-being of those around you.


“When you immunize your child, you’re not only immunizing your child. That child’s immunization is contributing to the control of the disease in the population,” explains Dr. Kathryn Edwards, professor of pediatrics and director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program. [The Guardian]


This is called herd immunity. [Vox] 93% to 95% of the community must be immunized to reach heard immunity. [NPR] When a group is highly immunized, it makes it near impossible for viruses to spread and provides protection to the community. Yet, when a community is partially vaccinated, a single virus can gain strength and wipe out the herd.





It works

Vaccines have fully eradicated two diseases: smallpox and rinderpest. [Vox]


If the vaccine has not fully removed the disease, it comes pretty close. In the case of measles, the vaccine is about 97% effective according to the CDC. [NPR]



Safe than sorry

Vaccines are the easiest and safest way to reduce people’s chances of contracting diseases, the flu, and other viruses. [The Washington Post



Minor side effects

Vaccines are proven to have minor side effects that are rare, like a low-grade fever, rash, or sore arm. [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


See the full list of potential side effects for various vaccines, produced by the CDC.



Don't make it worse

When people elect to not vaccinate themselves or their children, diseases can return stronger than before.


For example, in 2000, the United States was measles free; in 2014, there were 667 recorded cases measles in the U.S. The major cause? Unvaccinated children. [The Guardian]




Some parents choose to not vaccinate their children for medical or religious reasons. [National Institutes of Health]


Religious opt-outs are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.



Spreading misinformation

Some parents cite debunked misinformation, or false information when choosing to not vaccinate.


One common debunked theory is that vaccines cause Autism. [NPR] This has been disproven by peer-reviewed, scientific studies numerous times. Vaccines do not cause Autism. [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]




Public perception or sentiment of vaccine effectiveness can play into the choice against immunization. This is especially true with the flu shot. [Quartz], [Smithsonian]



A growing movement?

One researcher out of Johns Hopkins University, Daniel Salmon, believes less than 1% of Americans "adamantly" oppose vaccinations. [Johns Hopkins Magazine]


Opposition toward vaccinations has increased its presence through the use of social media. [Smithsonian]


  • May 2019: From January to May 3, 2019, the CDC reports over 764 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 23 states. [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]

  • April 2019: NYC Mayor De Blasio ordered a state of emergency and mandatory vaccinations for measles-mumps-rubella in certain parts of Brooklyn, NY. [The Wall Street Journal] Some parents are suing the government to stop the mandate. [ABC, Local 7]

  • The New York Health Department identified "five cases, including the initial case of measles" that originated from a trip to Isreal.

  • Schools in the United States require vaccinations for school attendance. [The Journal of Clinical Ethics]

  • States are fighting back on both sides: Arizona state government may pass a bill that helps parents opt-out of vaccinating their children. [NPR] Oregon state government passed a bill to eliminate religious exemptions for vaccinations. [The Oregonian]

screen shot 2019 05 07 at 11 00 33 amCenter for Disease Control and Prevention

Where active cases of measles exist in the United States


Key Vocabulary