Outbreaks of deadly, preventable diseases in Vancouver can and should be avoided
By Greg Waldock, Staff Writer
The anti-vaccination movement has, tragically, planted firm roots here in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. From Chilliwack to Point Grey, specific neighbourhoods have shown far lower vaccination rates than the ones around them—and, unsurprisingly, with higher rates of smallpox and whooping cough.
In many impoverished parts of the world the lack of access to vaccinations is a matter of life and death, with viral outbreaks capable of killing thousands of people across generations with no cure or treatment. Vancouver (thankfully) does not have the excuse of poverty or poor education for these totally preventable outbreaks. The culprit is not the inability to get vaccines; it’s a willingness to throw out hard facts in favour of soft, easily-digestible lies.
The modern anti-vax movement kicked off in 1998 with a paper writer by Andrew Wakefield alleging connections between certain ingredients in certain vaccines with autism starting in childhood. Despite actual professionals thoroughly and publicly proving the paper wrong, it still became enormously popular with certain aggressively-contrarian crowds, particularly the kind that regularly watches daytime TV. Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz hosted interviews with people selling alternatives to vaccines, regardless of their actual medical merits. A public dialogue in Canada and the US emerged condemning “Big Pharma”, its ties to the government, and vaccines administered to children at childbirth.
At first, this was just frustrating anti-scientific nonsense pushed by people with financial stakes in its popularity. But as the 2000s rolled on, the real and obvious danger of the anti-vax movement became clear: As childhood measles vaccinations slowed, measles epidemics started breaking out across the Western world. In 2013, 88 people were hospitalized in Wales, resulting in one death. In 2008, 11 children contracted measles in San Diego, all confirmed to have been unvaccinated due to their age or their parents’ choiceAll these cases occurred in towns and neighbourhoods with low vaccination rates.
I believe the anti-vax movement isn’t a debate, a social justice campaign, or an academic dialogue. It is a rabid, frenzied, thoughtless push towards feel-good solutions regardless of their impact. It exists exclusively because people are falling for “all-natural” or “chemical-free” advertisements that have placed children in our community directly in harm’s way. I fully believe that before this movement ends, there will be children dying in Vancouver because their parents chose not to vaccinate them.
This goes beyond the government advertising vaccine information or enforcing mandatory inoculations; this is a social movement and can only be stopped by people on the ground. If you know people who support not vaccinating their kids, I believe you have a responsibility to inform them. We as a community can only hope people are open to being informed.