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Vaccines Necessary in the First World, Not Just the Third

Yesterday at the UN several groups, including Rotary International, the World Health Organization, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation met to discuss their commitment to, and the strides made, campaigning to end polio worldwide. Yesterday Rotary announced,

The side event — “Our Commitment to the Next Generation: The Legacy of a Polio-free World” — brought together leaders of the remaining endemic countries, and representatives of donor governments, development agencies, the GPEI partners, and the media to underscore the urgent need to finish the job of global polio eradication. Although the wild poliovirus is endemic only in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria, other countries are still at risk for re-established transmission of the virus through its “importation” from the endemics.

Millions have been pledged towards the effort and we are slowly watching countries become polio-free. Unfortunately, polio and other preventable diseases could (and already are) facing a resurgence thanks to dangerous parenting fads in the West.

For several years, rumors have spread through all-natural, hippie parenting circles that vaccines contain chemicals that cause autism. They maintain, despite a total lack of scientific evidence, that children have been disabled and incapacitated by mercury and other preservatives in vaccines. The one scientific study that might have made their case was discredited last year and its results thrown out. Despite this, many famous parents, including Jenny McCarthy (of MTV fame) and Mayim Bialik (TV’s Blossom) have publicly lambasted vaccine research while declaring their children to be unvaccinated. Unfortunately, these conspiracy theories have hit the political mainstream as well. During the primaries this year Rep. Michele Bachmann repeated rumors she heard from an audience member at a debate about vaccine safety. In 2008, both candidates for president spread vaccine misinformation, claiming that the science was still undecided on the link between vaccines and autism.

The millions of dollars raised and spent by governments and organizations to end polio worldwide is money well-spent. Unfortunately, one epidemic could undo the decades of work making this vaccine available to every child in the world. We’ve already seen outbreaks of deadly and entirely preventable diseases like whooping cough and the measles, and instances of diseases with vaccines available have increased as immunization opt-outs rise. While it’s admirable that these groups are working to make vaccines available in the most remote villages in the world, parents in Portland and other liberal epicenters are setting medical science back fifty years in the United States.

All children, regardless of their parent’s scientific ignorance, need and deserve access to vaccines that were developed not just for their own sake, but also for the sake of public health. After these groups manage to get vaccines to children in isolated villages in Pakistan, perhaps they should schedule a stop-over in on their way home to explain science to self-described “educated” parents. Public health groups should be emphasizing the importance of vaccines in Pakistan and in Park Slope lest their efforts become undermined by parents in the latter.


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