The debate over a possible link between vaccines and autism has heated up after a recent outbreak of measles that was traced back to Disneyland in California. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported 102 individuals from 14 states who were infected with the disease, with most being traced back to a recent trip to Disneyland.
Measles was officially declared as eliminated from the United States in the year 2000, but cases of the disease are starting to rise again. The CDC reported that many of the newer cases were due to visitors from other countries, but experts also attest that the anti-vaccine movement shares the blame for the rising numbers.
Much of the anti-vaccine movement can be traced back to the autism community, due to a report published by Dr. Andrew Wakefield linking the MMR vaccine to the disorder. This report was later discredited, but many parents, including prominent celebrities like actress Jenny McCarthy, continue to publicly speak about their belief in the vaccine-autism link.
The recent measles outbreak has sparked outrage among parents who fear that unvaccinated children may pose a threat to their own children, who have been vaccinated. Many are calling for mandatory vaccinations for all, while others continue to argue that they have the right to make these decisions on behalf of their children.
The debate is also heating up among American politicians, many of whom are gearing up for a possible run for the presidency in 2016. An outbreak of a disease like measles, which can be deadly, would be devastating, and if the anti-vaccination movement continues, there could be other, deadlier illnesses making a comeback as well. However, America is a country that is founded on individual freedom, and there are those who see mandatory vaccinations as an affront to their personal rights.
Many of the major players have already spoken out, some of whom have shifted their positions in recent years. President Barack Obama encouraged parents to vaccinate their children, saying,
“You should get your kids vaccinated. . . I understand that there are families that, in some cases, are concerned about the effects of vaccinations. The science is, you know, pretty indisputable.”
Obama was not always this convinced about the safety of vaccines. When he was running for office back in 2008, he said,
“We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.”
His opponent in the 2008 race, John McCain, agreed at the time, saying,
“It’s indisputable that (autism) is on the rise among children, the question is what’s causing it. And we go back and forth and there’s strong evidence that indicates it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines.”
Hillary Clinton, current frontrunner for the Democratic nomination who also ran against Obama in 2008, also expressed concern over “possible environmental causes like vaccines,” back in 2008.
This week she was much more definite when she tweeted:
Republican candidates have also commented on the debate. New Jersey governor Chris Christie recently came under fire for publicly stating that parents “need to have some measure of choice” over vaccinating their children. He went on to say,
“Not every vaccine is created equal, and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others.”
A spokesperson from Christie’s office later clarified his comments, saying,
“To be clear: The governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated. At the same time, different states require different degrees of vaccination, which is why he was calling for balance in which ones government should mandate.”
Rand Paul, another candidate for the 2016 Republican nomination, continues to assert that vaccines should be voluntary. He says,
“I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”
The 2016 presidential race is already reflecting a deeply divided country, and the recent measles outbreak seems to be adding fuel to the fire. It remains to be seen whether the measles outbreak continues to spread, and where elected leaders will stand in the balance between personal freedom and public safety.
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