Vaccination is an important tool for public health. Widespread vaccination has helped to reduce or eliminate serious consequences of many diseases. It prevents millions of deaths each year.
Despite the importance of vaccines, some people don’t bother getting them. Others are actively opposed to vaccination.
Some people are opposed to vaccination for religious reasons. Others are worried about safety. Although vaccines can cause adverse events, few are serious. For most people, the risk of vaccination is much lower than the risk of getting the disease.
In 1998, a fraudulent paper published in The Lancet fundamentally changed the debate about vaccines.
The paper claimed there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. The incidence of autism had been growing and people were looking for an explanation. They latched onto that one. Suddenly celebrities and other media figures were speaking out against vaccination. Parents began to get confusing messages about how they should protect their children. Other research didn’t support a link between MMR vaccination and autism. However, activists kept the argument alive despite the fact that the researcher responsible for proposing the connection was found guilty of ethical, medical, and scientific misconduct in the publication of the original paper.
The initial paper was proven to be fraudulent in 2009 and has been retracted. Still, many people continue to believe that vaccination increases the risk of autism. Because of this, children have been needlessly put at risk of serious, preventable diseases.
Fallout from the fraud is likely to continue for years.
Vaccine mandates and school regulations mean that most children get important vaccinations. However, there is no similar system in place to encourage adult vaccination. For example, all adults should be getting an annual flu vaccine when possible. However, less than half of people do. A national survey from RAND Health found that, in the 2009-2010 flu season, only 40 percent of Americans got the flu vaccine. That number was only slightly higher in groups specifically recommended for vaccination, such as the elderly.
Reasons for lack of vaccination varied. Some people simply didn’t know about the flu vaccine. However, many people weren’t interested in vaccination because of incorrect beliefs. For example, some people:
- believed they didn’t need the vaccine
- believed that their immunity from infection was “better” than immunity from vaccination
- thought that the vaccine would give them the flu
None of these beliefs are accurate. The flu is far more common, and dangerous, than typical flu vaccine side effects. According to RAND, influenza infection causes thousands of deaths every year.