CEO Blog

Anti-Vaccination - Fear or Complacency?


The 2019 Samoa measles outbreak began September 2019.  By Christmas on this small island of 200,000, over 5,600 confirmed cases and over 80 deaths of children had occurred. The outbreak has been attributed to a sharp drop in measles vaccinations from the previous year.

How many times will we repeat history? Is it fear or complacency that is responsible for a parent’s decision not to vaccinate?

I have found it is both, but apathy plays the heavier hand. It is not so much these folks do not believe in vaccines as they do not believe in the disease. At least, they do not believe it will happen to them or those they love.

This is a tragic mistake. In 1900, the average life span in North America was in the 40’s. Most of the shortened average was due to childhood death rates. Vaccines, antibiotics and public sanitation account for most of the improvement to the current average life of nearly 80 years. And vaccines arguably have played the greatest role.

Not many would reject antibiotics for an abscessed tooth or pneumonia. Few would dismiss the importance of fresh clean water and flush toilets. Why the ambivalence toward vaccinations?

Because vaccines have been so very effective, many parents have not seen a case of a vaccine-preventable disease first hand. Those who choose not to vaccinate are afforded protection because there are enough parents who do – until there isn’t. See Samoa.

Fear can be addressed by education for those willing to listen. Your child is 100 times more likely to be struck by lightening in his lifetime than to have a serous allergic reaction to the vaccine that protects against measles. And the MMR absolutely does not cause autism.

Complacency or obstinacy is more difficult. A 6-year-old Oregon boy was playing on a farm when he suffered a mild simple forehead laceration. Six days later the physical expression of tetnus began. The boy, who had not received vaccinations was taken to Oregon Health Science University. He spent 57 days in the hospital and racked up medical bills of over $800,000. He then had an extensive rehabilitation center stay before going back home. But he was a rare person to have survived tetnus.

Despite extensive education of the risks and benefits of vaccinations, the family declined the second tetnus booster – or any other recommended immunization. How do you fix that?

An anti-vaccination person at an EFM town hall, who had no medical training but surfed the internet, declined to accept data from the CDC, WHO, AAFP, AAP, etc. He kept repeating “everyone should do their own research” He came from a family of electricians. I could not help but wonder if the same standard should apply to folks wiring their own home. Should we stick two wires together and see what happens?

I have found that one of the important life decisions is to decide who you will trust. If I cannot convince a parent that it is worthwhile to have their child vaccinated, I will never convince them of any medical decision. Because any other issue will have far less evidence to prove its value.