Over twenty years ago, a faulty research studying linking autism to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines proved just how pervasive scientific falsehoods can become.
In 1998, British physician Andrew Wakefield published a study of 12 children with a supposed link between the MMR vaccine and the onset of autism-related symptoms, despite a lack of causation.
While there have been numerous studies that have repeatedly disproven Wakefield’s study, many still hold onto his initial claims in disregard of scientific consensus. So called “anti-vaxxers” maintain their position against vaccinating their children, posing a substantial risk to those around them.
Although officials were able to declare the elimination of measles in the year 2000, parents who refuse to vaccinate their children are beginning to reverse this progress. In January and February alone this year, there have been 206 cases of measles confirmed across 11 states, more than the total number of cases in 2017.
The “anti-vaxx” movement has had similar negative consequences on a global scale, with unvaccinated children re-introducing the disease to different countries and 72 reported deaths in Europe last year.
Measles is a highly contagious disease that begins with cold-like symptoms and a rash with other possible complications such as pneumonia, brain inflammation and seizures.
This past week, yet another study was published that once again disproved the link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Researchers in Copenhagen studied data on over 500,000 Danish children over a ten-year span. The findings provided more evidence against the claim that the MMR vaccine increases risk of autism on the largest scale yet.
Experts say that different methods of communication drawn from behavioral science can be implemented to dissuade parents from exempting their children from vaccinations. Clinicians should reframe vaccine-related medical questions as a point of necessity, rather than a choice for parents to make.
Perhaps the most compelling reasons to receive proper vaccination is to protect those who are unable to receive the vaccine due to allergies or weakened immune systems. This is drawn from the idea of “community immunity,” wherein outbreaks can be prevented because it cannot travel from person to person due to vaccination.
This case shows that scientific falsehoods can pose the greatest threat to science itself and underscores the need for widespread education on the importance of vaccination — not just for oneself, but for society as a whole.