An outbreak of measles shouldn’t bring back the vaccine debate – it should end it

It spreads through schools, through neighbourhoods, through meetings and in recent years, it spreads through the Internet. The “debate” over whether or not to vaccinate likely originated from bored, affluent, pseudo-intellectual parents who were skeptical and paranoid, but not quite smart enough to tell the difference between a credible study and a load of fear-mongering garbage. At least that’s the impression I get after reading some peoples’ justifications not to vaccinate their children. The fear is so real to some that it’s as if by vaccinating, we’re all still rolling drops of mercury around in our bare hands and licking the lead paint off of our walls.

How much can we really pile on to these anti-vaxxers, though? The past is filled with examples of science gone wrong and mis-innovations that ended in folly. Leaded paint and gasoline certainly did some damage, we were wrong when we thought trepanation, the practice of drilling a hole in your head, did… well, anything at all. We sure got it wrong with bloodletting.

But that was then and this is now. Never have more eyes read more scientific papers. Never has information been so accessible and so scrutinized. Never has more research been done.

Some of that research is actually pointed to finding out just how well we’re doing. Remember polio? If you’re the average student at TRU, you probably don’t, and there’s a reason for that. According to Immunize Canada, in 1955 there were more than 76,000 cases of polio reported in Canada, the U.S., the U.S.S.R., Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand combined. Twelve years later, there were only 1,013 cases in those same countries. By 1991, polio was completely eliminated in the western hemisphere, and it’s all because of vaccines.

And then there’s measles, the disease that should be eliminated, but isn’t, thanks to pockets of people who refuse to get their children vaccinated. According to a June 12, 2014 article in the Canadian Communicable Diseases Report, measles is the most infectious disease known. In a fully susceptible (unvaccinated) population, every infected person would infect an average of 17 others – a vaccination rate above 95 per cent is therefore needed to eliminate the disease.

We’ll never get there if this opt-in paranoid ignorance continues. These days, there’s simply no excuse not to vaccinate. The science isn’t only “out there,” it’s flat out unavoidable. It’s also widely corroborated and its opponents are refuted with rational scientifically backed arguments. The choice not to vaccinate is the choice to be ignorant, and while ignorance might have been an excuse 60 years ago, it’s not an excuse now.

So yes, we can pile on, and we should pile on, because how many more outbreaks of preventable infectious diseases do we need to go through before everyone finally gets it?