Anti-Vaxx Movement Sadly Succeeds in Spreading False Information and Illness

Diseases such as smallpox and polio have been eradicated by vaccines which used to kill millions of people, mostly children worldwide. Photo by James GathanyContent, via Wikimedia Commons.

Diseases such as smallpox and polio have been eradicated by vaccines which used to kill millions of people, mostly children worldwide. Photo by James GathanyContent, via Wikimedia Commons.

Ally Waltemyer, Commentary Editor

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There are more than 151 cases of measles reported in Rockland County, New York since October.

Health officials warn this outbreak is far from over and designate certain problem areas where the disease emerged, but they know of one highly successful method to prevent other citizens from getting the highly contagious disease and contain it–vaccines.

Since their creation and implementation in the Western Hemisphere, vaccines have been met with strong, ignorant fear and criticism.

From priests claiming they interfere with God’s plan, to hesitant mothers believing they poison their children, the miracle of science that is vaccines has faced unnecessary resistance currently fueled by social media and conspiracy theories.

The anti-vaccination movement destroys the proven effectiveness of herd immunity, the idea that people get vaccinated in order to prevent the spread of disease and protect those who cannot get vaccinated like people with diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS or other health conditions.

Herd immunity is what protects populations from wide-spread plagues. Photograph by Tkarcher via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Critics of vaccines put others at risk by “defending” children from the onslaught of the possible side effects that come with vaccines.

Even though there are some common side effects, such as a mild fever, pain around the injection sites and a headache, these are in no way horrible in comparison to the illnesses they are preventing.

More extreme side effects of vaccinations like anaphylactic shock are unfortunate; however, they are rare, and if others are vaccinated, herd immunity works its logical magic.

These possible reactions are not worth avoiding if it means not getting the measles, a disease that kills 100,000 children a year.

Diseases such as smallpox and polio have been eradicated by vaccines which used to kill millions of people, mostly children worldwide. Photograph by James GathanyContent, via Wikimedia Commons

 

While many public schools know the risk of having non-vaccinated students walking through the hallways, 17 states, including Pennsylvania, are starting to make exceptions for parents to opt their children out of receiving vaccines.

Though it may be worthwhile knowing what is going into someone’s body, the anti-vaxx movement is not fighting for the right for people to know more about vaccines.

The anti-vaxx movement is spreading false information and attacking the vulnerable demographic of mothers who want to do right by their children.

Eighteen-year-old Norwalk High School student Ethan Lindenberger is amongst the many teenagers who defied their anti-vaxx parents to get vaccinated.

Lindenberger testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on March 5 to share his experience growing up with a mother who is against vaccines and sourced her information from social groups sharing misinformation.

“Between social media platforms, to using a parent’s love as a tool, these lies cause people to distrust in vaccination, furthering the impact of a preventable disease outbreak and even contributing to the cause of diseases spreading,” said Lindenberger. “This needs to change and I only hope my story contributes to such advancements.”

Organizations such as Voice for Choice that claim to “promote people’s rights to be fully informed about the composition, quality and short- and long-term health effects of food and pharmaceutical products” only serve to be a platform for conspiracy theories.

In one instance, Voice for Choice exaggerated the milligrams of aluminum (which is a small amount used to boost the immune response) in some vaccines to seem as if it exceeds the EPA standards, claiming infants could receive the same protective treatment in breast milk.

The medical study that the anti-vaxx movement was originally based off of has been discredited several times and was written by a physician who had his medical license revoked.

This debunked report has since spread like wildfire thanks to social media platforms such as Facebook.

Facebook pushed this movement into a cult-like status because of their goal of recruiting people to their mission of false information.

Their latest recruiting method is to attack mothers online who have recently lost a child to an illness, claiming they are at fault for their child’s death.

“Interviews with mothers who’ve lost children and with those who spy on anti-vaccination groups, reveal a tactic employed by anti-vaxxers: When a child dies, members of the group sometimes encourage each other to go on that parent’s Facebook page,” wrote Elizabeth Cohen and John Bonfield for a CNN article. “The anti-vaxxers then post messages telling the parents they’re lying and their child never existed, or that the parent murdered them, or that vaccines killed the child or some combination of all of those.”

In addition, for those who leave the cult, the fallout can be just as extreme as the unlawful attacks.

Young mother Megan Sandlin was once anti-vaxx, but after she did her own research using reputable sources and discovered the multitude of lies her friends were spreading, she left the movement followed by harsh criticism.

“The fallout from changing my views was pretty extreme,” wrote Sandlin on the Voices for Vaccines website. “Within two weeks of ‘coming out’ on Facebook about my new stance, I lost over 50 friends. People who had cheered me on and supported me through my home birth, who had told me countless times that I was an awesome mother and an inspiration, just dropped me like we’d never been friends at all. I was removed from groups and blocked by people I didn’t even know. I was accused of being brainwashed and told that my girls were going to get autism and have terrible reactions. It hurt.”

As a growing movement, it is becoming increasingly harder to prevent anti-vaxxers from gaining more attention, and any attention they can get often leads into more recruits.

Since social media is the vessel in which the group transports their harmful and incorrect information, some platforms started banning any anti-vaxx rhetoric.

GoFundMe, Youtube, Pinterest, Instagram and Amazon have all started to crack down on anti-vaxxers by removing anything related to the movement.

Big tech companies creating a stance is only the beginning to preventing anti-vaxx theories from gaining traction.

However, it is Facebook who truly needs to take a step in the right direction- not just by stopping anti-vaxx ads, but by removing groups and pages all together.

The last severe case of a measles outbreak was in 2014 when a non-vaccinated child went to Disneyland. Image by Imajear via Wikimedia Commons

 

This can be achieved if more people stand up and complain to Facebook about the movement.

Even though people may view this as a violation of freedom of speech, their speech is no longer just their opinion or their choice.

It is impacting the well-being of the public not only through the spread of disease which is killing children, but also through their harassment of innocent people on social media.

As more people stand against this movement, then it is more likely laws will be enacted, so the debate can be eradicated along with spontaneous measles outbreaks.

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