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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Disease being spread along with misinformation

Vaccinations can spare children from diseases like measles, and yet some parents refuse to get their kids immunized, based on misinformation. —
Vaccinations can spare children from diseases like measles, and yet some parents refuse to get their kids immunized, based on misinformation. — 123RF Stock photo

In a perfect world, anti-vaccination activists would only reap what they sow.

Imagine this: the United States was declared measles-free in the year 2000.

Here’s what Scientific American magazine had to say about that milestone: “The Americas has become the first region in the world to be free of measles, following a 22-year vaccination drive against the disease which continues to infect tens of thousands of people globally, the Pan American Health Organization said on Tuesday. The milestone was confirmed after no cases of the highly contagious disease originating in the Americas were recorded in at least three years, the PAHO said.”
Yeah, well, that was short-lived.

Thanks to parents deciding that their internet information was worth more than advice from real doctors, measles came back.

And with a vengeance.

In places like New York City and Washington State, there are outbreaks that almost precisely correlate with increased percentages of people who have refused to have their children vaccinated to stop the disease. There’s an outbreak now in British Columbia, conveniently brought back by an unvaccinated child returning from a vacation in Thailand.

Infection specialists are calling out for what it is: the result of anti-vaxxer false reports spread by social media. In fact, there are even suggestions that the spread of the false reports — and hence the spread of the real disease — could be deliberate.

In what seems like particularly harsh poetic judgement, those parents are learning the real world impact of risking a disease that kills between one and two children out of every thousand who get the infection, let alone the other side-effects of a disease so contagious that you can catch the infection from a sneeze – hours after the sneezer has left the room.

But what about the collateral damage of that stupidity?

Everyone gets some protect from herd immunity; if enough people around you are immunized, the illness that’s involved doesn’t circulate as freely, meaning that those who can’t be immunized are also protected. Infants can’t get immunized until they reach a certain age, and there are people on immune-suppressing drugs that also don’t benefit. For others, a small percentage, the immunization doesn’t take, leaving them unwittingly subject to potential infection.

It leaves those groups at risk from the boneheadedness of others.

Infection specialists are calling out for what it is: the result of anti-vaxxer false reports spread by social media. In fact, there are even suggestions that the spread of the false reports — and hence the spread of the real disease — could be deliberate.

“Taking on the misinformation campaign about vaccines has become more complex now that research is demonstrating that a large amount of the social media posts represent state-sponsored cyberwarfare, particularly from Russia,” Robert Califf, a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, told Vox.

One thing that heartens me? Stories like the one about Ethan Lindenberger, an Ohio 18-year-old who did his own research and decided to get the vaccinations his parents had decided to not get for their children. Doctors in British Columbia, which is facing a measles outbreak right now, say they are seeing a surge in teens looking for vaccinations.

“I’ve seen youth as young as 14 years old coming in on their own and asking to receive vaccines,” Dr. Eric Cadesky, president of the Doctors of B.C. told CTV News. “Most of the youth that are coming to see me have done a lot of research, they’ve been exposed to both the truth as we know it in terms of vaccines as well as a lot of the opinions and outright lies.”

The bottom line? Just because your parents are determined to be stupid, doesn’t mean you don’t have to be.

I hope that’s the case for a lot more than just immunization.

Because, boy, would I like to think that there’s an end coming to some of the internet-driven stupid we now seem to be living with on a daily basis.

Recent columns by this author

RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Words can have terrible consequences

RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Now an even bigger loophole

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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