It used to be automatic: You took your kids to the doctor for their regular office visits and they got a series of scheduled vaccinations to protect them from childhood diseases, including measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccinations before entering school for the first time.
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The series of vaccinations for decades has offered protection against diseases that once posed a deadly threat to children. But now, other childhood diseases, such as whooping cough and measles, which were stopped because of vaccinations, are starting to reappear. Why?
Questions About Safety and New Risks
Back in 2014, there was a measles outbreak at Disneyland in Anaheim, California that was traced to unvaccinated children visiting the amusement park. It was the first real outbreak in decades, sparking a slew of strict vaccination rules and policies across the state. In 2015, the California State Legislature passed SB277, one of the toughest mandatory vaccination laws in the nation.
Enter Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has long been a voice against vaccines for children, claiming among other things, that the Centers for Disease Control, or the CDC, is hiding dangerous side effects of the treatments, including links to autism. Kennedy calls the vaccines and their side effects the “holocaust.”
He enlisted the help of the Nation of Islam to help spread the word to Black parents. Minister Tony Muhammad, western regional minister for the Nation of Islam, charged that the group found the CDC was using vaccines to poison Black and Latino boys, à la the Tuskegee experiments. But no studies or investigations have so far verified the claim.
Kennedy also found another unlikely ally in the fight: Donald Trump. Before he was elected, he fired off a series of tweets claiming vaccines cause autism. In fact, Kennedy has said that the president has since asked him to chair a commission on vaccine safety. The commission has yet to be formed.
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In response to these and other claims from anti-vaccine advocates, the CDC says the use of vaccines to prevent diseases in children is considered safe and effective. They report that since 2010, when there was a significant drop in immunizations, there has been somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 cases of the disease. They say immunizations protect not just members in the immediate family, but prevents spread to friends and family.
Many of Kennedy’s anti-vaxxers who opt out of vaccinations for their own children, want schools to tighten up on immunizations for other children in school. Scientists call it the “herd effect.” In theory, when a large percentage of the population is immunized, it diminishes the risks for those who opt not to vaccinate their kids.
Outbreaks Around the Country
In the spring, a Somali community in Hennepin County, Minnesota experienced a measles outbreak. So far, the disease has touched at least 12 unvaccinated Somali children. According to their records there are currently 76 cases among unvaccinated children of all ethnicities, across the state. According to data from the Minnesota Department of Health, the rates of immunization for children with the MMR series of vaccines, was around 94 percent in 2008. But immunization rates dropped steadily after anti-vaxxers came into the community and talked to them about the risks for autism and other learning abilities. By 2014, only 42 percent of Somali children in the state had been vaccinated versus 89 percent of two-year olds in the state’s general population.
No one is questioning the fact that vaccinations protect children and communities from outbreaks. In fact, a Pew Research Center study shows that 82 percent of Americans support vaccinating children, yet there is still concern about side effect.
Interestingly in the survey results showed that the Black people who responded, considered the risks of side effects higher and the benefits lower than other Americans.
What’s the Worst that Can Happen?
Black children have significantly higher health risks for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, among other diseases, than their White counterparts. A child who comes down with measles can also get pneumonia, brain inflammation and other serious diseases that could lead to death. In cases, such as chicken pox, where vaccinations are not 100 percent effective in preventing it, the symptoms in vaccinated children, are less severe. And of course, the best ammunition against a school-wide or community wide outbreak is the MMR vaccination.
What Should You Do?
While most parents agree that vaccinations do reduce the risks for disease, they are still faced with the unknown, including doubts raised by anti-vaxxers. At the end of the day, do your homework, in order to make an informed decision for your child. Ask other parents about their decision, and why they made it. Read everything you can get your hands on, including reports from the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and information from the Vaccinate Your Baby campaign, that addresses the autism risks. And of course, have a face-to-face with children’s pediatrician for information.
Andrea King Collier, a NewsOne contributor, is a, multimedia health journalist based in Lansing, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @andreacollier