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Misinformation and Fear Feed Measles Outbreak

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Beyond simply questioning, America has made a cottage industry out of fabricating spectacular stories out of simple truths. From a Stanley Kubrick-produced moon landing to the Seattle Seahawks losing the Superbowl in an effort to avoid Marshawn Lynch becoming the game’s MVP, America is ever vigilant with looking for the man behind the curtain. It’s the reason one of my favorite books as a teenager was William Cooper’s Behold a Pale Horse because, in all honesty, a world ruled by secret societies and alien technology is simply more interesting. 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.

While for some the anti-vaccination movement may appear to be relatively new, it and the measles outbreak it has at least in part helped facilitate has been seventeen years in the making. Like most conspiracies, this one has a single and distinct point of origin: a study by then doctor Andrew Wakefield and published by the UK medical journal The Lancet claiming a link between vaccines and autism. The study was ultimately found to be fraudulent by a peer review board. In light of this news, The Lancet retracted the study and Wakefield’s medical license was revoked.

A CNN report on a 2014 study that found a 340 percent increased risk of autism among specific populations of African-American boys following MMR vaccinations did nothing to quell the anti-vaccination sentiment. Especially since it claimed that the CDC was aware of this risk and elected to cover it up. The study was written by Brian Hooker and published by the online medical journal Translational Neurodegeneration. Like its predecessor, the study was retracted for “undeclared competing interests,” namely Hooker being an alleged anti-vaccinationist. The site also cited “concerns about the validity of the methods and statistical analysis.”

While other conspiracy theories fill internet discussion boards, the notion of a vaccine-related conspiracy stands to create a serious public health risk. According to the World Health Organization, there were over 145,000 measles deaths in 2013 worldwide and efforts to eliminate the disease has stalled. Despite multiple examples of improper and unethical studies purporting a link between vaccinations and autism, the anti-vaccination movement continues to factor into public health risks thanks to celebrity backing, misinformation and misdirected fear.

While Americans are afforded the luxury of debating over protecting themselves from deadly diseases with readily available medicine, children across the world are dying as their parents beg for access to a cure that every credible medical study has proven to be safe and effective. While anti-vaccinationists host “measles parties” as a means to avoid vaccinations, exposed children face pneumonia, encephalitis-related mental retardation and death. While children are being handed story books about “Marvelous Measles,” children in developing countries face the possibility of measles blindness, the largest cause of blindness in children in those countries.

Individualism is the birthright of every American. The root of almost all of our debates and arguments are rooted in defense of this right. We are eternally wary of an Orwellian existence that would render us cogs in the machine.  Lost in the anti-vaccine rhetoric however is the understanding that the rights of the individual can’t (or at least shouldn’t) infringe on the rights and safety of those around you. Medical decisions made based on rumor, misinformation, and ignorance is the highest form of global irresponsibility. The irony in all of this is that by and large I’m sure these same parents would dive on a peanut butter sandwich like a live grenade, and in all honesty they are probably smart to do so. It is with that fervor that we must defend our children from equally preventable dangers like measles.

Don’t let your liberty be our children’s death.

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Shane Paul Neil

Shane is a freelance writer who has contributed to The Huffington Post, Technorati and Social Media Today. He is a regular on the Sportsball podcast and a frequent guest on #TWiBPrime.

View all contributions by Shane Paul Neil


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