In the throes of a measles epidemic that has to date over 600 known cases in 2014 and an additional 121 in 2015, debate over child vaccination has dominated headlines, social media and PTA meetings across the country. At the heart of the matter is a single discredited study that sparked the ignition of doubt and fear that drive conspiracy theories into overdrive.
The anti-vaccination movement has been a point of contention amongst parents, medical professionals and government officials for years dating back to the study published by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, published a study linking vaccinations with autism in 1998. The study has since been discredited and in the process Wakefield had his medical license revoked. Despite this, the waves created by the study continue to be felt almost twenty years later with some parents actively refusing to have their children vaccinated. One of the most prominent and outspoken parents among them is Jenny McCarthy. The former Playboy bunny and actress has penned three books espousing her view on the anti-vaccination movement. The most recent measles outbreak, which reportedly started at Disneyland and has since spread to Arizona, has been linked to the anti-vaccination movement. Currently all but two states (West Virginia and Mississippi) make religious exemptions for vaccination. In addition, 19 states allow for “philosophical” exemptions. California currently allows for both religious and philosophical exemptions, as does Arizona.
In the midst of the controversy, families of color are being actively recruited by anti-vaxxers. While the anti-vaccine movement has been traditionally white and affluent, blacks are considered fairly easy targets due to a general distrust of the medical community dating back to the Tuskegee experiments. As Monika Brooks, advocate and Executive Director of the Mocha Autism Network puts it “The accusations from the 2004 CDC whistleblower incident has widened the already strained gap between families of color and the medical community. It prevents families from seeking help for not only atypical neurological challenges, but also for simple physical medical challenges.”
Despite the fractured relationship between blacks and the medical community, vaccinations remain at a fairly high rate because as Brooks puts it “many of us don’t consider it an option. We don’t ask. “While vaccination rates for black children are lower than their white counterparts, the disparity is generally more attributable to economic and availability factors more than any philosophical viewpoint.
There are currently 100 cases of measles that have spread to 13 states following the Disneyland outbreak.