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A photograph of a newborn has gone viral, his body severely swollen and his skin covered in rashes from head to toe. The newborn’s parents said that Ian’s devastating state was caused by a vaccine and by day forty-seven, Ian was dead (“Age of Autism website”, 2009) But what was the real cause of Ian’s death? As Ian’s story spread, parents began to react online, especially through social media, which resulted in the growth of the anti-vaccination movement.
The ant-vaccination movement stems from multiple key factors including the misinformed message spread daily by Anti-vaxxers on Facebook, Twitter and other media outlets, a parent’s lack of confidence in healthcare providers, and religion. Which lead to disease outbreaks and deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases.
First, the anti-vaccination movement has become part of the mainstream dialogue regarding childhood vaccination, and social media is often used to harbor online spaces that strengthen and popularize anti-vaccination theories and anecdotes (Hoffman, 2019). Anti-vax influencers include doctors, celebrities, and “mommy bloggers”.
Voices such as Jim Carrey have proven to be influential, he is a successful actor with almost fifteen million followers on Twitter. So, if he says something controversial, millions of people are immediately going to know about it.
Additionally, images of ill children surfaced around the internet increased belief in a link between vaccines and autism. Perhaps one of the most popular anti-vaccine theories is that the mumps-measles-rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism, despite it being disproved multiple times. “The hypothesized link between the mumps-measles-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism continues to cause concern and challenge vaccine acceptance almost two decades after the controversial and later retracted Lancet paper from 1998, even though observational studies have not been able to identify an increased risk for autism after MMR vaccination,” (Hviid, 2019, March 4,)
Then, another significant cause of the anti-vaccination movement is the mistrust in doctors and healthcare providers.
Anti-vaxxers argue that children are purposely “poisoned” via vaccines. Fear of potentially deadly diseases has been replaced by the fear of often imaginary side effects of vaccination. Nonetheless, religion is also a common reason to refuse vaccination. Specific religious views are not the cause of the debate regarding vaccines among Hindu, Protestant, and Orthodox Jewish communities. Nonetheless, the components of these vaccines are against some of these religious beliefs. For instance, some brands of the mumps-measles-rubella (MMR) vaccine use gelatin, derived from cattle or pigs, as a stabilizer. This has caused reduced take-up, and increased levels of the disease, among countries with a high population of Muslims, or Ultra-Orthodox Jews. (Pager, April 10, 2019)
Finally, the rise of anti-vaccination movements in parts of the Western world poses a dire threat to people’s health and the collective herd immunity. Subsequently, people of all ages have fallen victims to recent outbreaks of measles (“Infectious Diseases Society of America”, October 6, 2018), which is one of the most notorious eliminated diseases that made a comeback as a consequence of a defect in herd immunity. Moreover, anti-vaxxers caused pro-vaccine parents to have trust issues with doctors and vaccines. Research has shown that even parents favorable to vaccination can be confused by the debate, leading them to question their decisions.
“Vaccines are the tugboats of preventive health.” William Foege, epidemiologist credited with the helping design the vaccine strategy to eliminate smallpox during the 1970s. Vaccines have had a profound effect on our lives by preventing infectious diseases. But with rise of the Anti-Vaccination movement on social media, disease outbreaks and death rates from vaccine-preventable diseases have increased. It is important that authorities and stakeholders in the medical field to restrain the influence of the anti-vaccination movement. They can establish social media communities to correct misinformation and provide facts about vaccines.
For Ian, when he seemed to be improving in the NICU, he was accidentally administered an antibiotic that he was allergic to that resulted in his condition to rapidly decline. Which meant that his death was not caused by the vaccine.
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