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COLUMN: Vaccinations shouldn’t be a thing from the past

By Paul Christiansen
On April 9, 2014

We don't need to worry about dangerous illnesses such as measles anymore, right? I mean, it was eliminated in the United States in the late 1960s, wasn't it? Let's get real.

In February, unsuspecting shoppers at a New York mall were exposed to the sickness when a case was isolated to a single infected individual. A few days later in San Francisco, thousands of university students and Bay Area Rapid Transit patrons were exposed when an infected UC Berkeley student attended classes and traveled via the train to the campus.

Most recently, a young woman who attended a Kings of Leon concert March 28 in Seattle started to show symptoms of the illness only days after the show. It's likely thousands of concertgoers could have come home with more than just good memories.

And that's bad news, because it's a disease that can spread quickly with symptoms that can be mistaken for those of the common cold. Sure, this disease is very rare in this country, but it — as well as infectious illnesses such as whooping cough — are entering a period of resurgence because immunization rates have fallen dramatically in the past 10 years.

Yes, even though flu season has ended here in Utah, there are other problems we need to be aware of when it comes to the necessity of vaccinations. By in large, those reading this publication are college students. The majority of us are twenty-somethings who have either started families or will in the near future — this is Utah, after all. We have to think about the future of our kids.

Some of the drop in immunization rates can be attributed to falsified information. Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor who faked research data and published it in order to suggest a connection between autism and the MMR — measles, mumps and rubella — immunization, can be thanked for his appalling contribution back in 1998.

Other misinformation presented to the public as fact has been further propagated by celebrities. Jenny McCarthy, a former Playboy Playmate turned actress and anti-vaccine activist, has loudly voiced her opinions that the MMR vaccine is directly responsible for her son's autism-like symptoms. You can easily see she's a loving mother who is passionate about the well-being of her child; you can sympathize with the hardship and heartbreak her family has experienced — but you can still cringe at and clench your teeth over her wholly irrational cause that has already been discredited.

And then there's Lori Webb, a Utah mother who claims her 19-year-old son died from a flu shot he was administered back in November. Afterward, doctors couldn't find the cause of the man's swelling brainstem, but eventually it led to his death. Rather than lay all doubt to rest through a full post-mortem medical examination — an autopsy, in layman’s terms — this mother, so convinced her son had been completely healthy, refused.

I can't imagine this mother's pain, but it was foolish to be so caught up in what she thought she knew that prevented doctors from finding the true cause of this tragedy.

Let's be clear: Immunizations are not a form of quack science. An overwhelming amount of scientific research has been conducted to demonstrate the effects — and benefits — immunizations have on individuals, their families and the people of their communities. I know people who refuse to vaccinate their children believe they are doing the right thing, but to think that is not only selfish, it's irresponsible.

The generations that came before us believed in doctors and scientists. These people trusted physicians to administer proper treatments and medicines to their children for illnesses and diseases that bring far more devastating outcomes if let go, be it polio, tuberculosis, measles or the common flu.

But you don't have to take my word for it. After all, I'm merely an op-ed columnist preaching from my soapbox. I'm not a scientist, but I believe in science. It did so much for our ancestors, especially in the 20th century with the near eradication of fatal and highly-communicable illnesses. Now that it's the 21st century, it only makes sense that more people should hold to the leaps and bounds provided by science. But that isn't always the case.

Most people spend more time researching the history of a used car they might buy than they do investigating the pros and cons of vaccinations. That alarms me, and I'd encourage everyone to look into immunizations and learn about the benefits for yourselves — the best places to start are www.izcoalitions.org and www.vaccineinformation.org.

Life is a gift. We've been given valuable tools to combat disease and illness, yet we don't all take advantage of them — and that is the most foolhardy thing we could do.

Paul is the former features editor of The Utah Statesman and is a senior majoring in print journalism. Send any comments to paul.r.christiansen@aggiemail.usu.edu.

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