When environmentalists discuss saving endangered species, they likely did not intend to include the measles virus. Parents refusing to vaccinate their children, however, seem very motivated to bring the virus back from being nearly nonexistent in the United States. There were fewer than 100 reported cases of measles almost every year from 2001-2012, and many of the reported cases were due to tourists from other countries. The largest spike was in 2011 when France experienced a large outbreak and people travelling from France brought the virus with them. More recently, in 2014, there were 23 outbreaks, but these were mostly centered in unvaccinated Amish communities in Ohio. Measles was generally well-contained and controlled in the last decade.
With the current anti-vaccination trends, however, we are at much greater risk for exposing more of our population to measles. There are already over a hundred reported cases of measles linked to an outbreak in Disneyland, and it is only the second month of the year. The virus itself may have been brought from another country, but it only spread so rapidly because of the dense population of unvaccinated individuals.
Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children also increase the risk of the vaccinated population being infected with the virus. Viruses tend to mutate when they have somewhere to grow and reproduce, and these mutations could potentially alter the virus enough to infect even vaccinated populations. Additionally, there are individuals who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons, and they are also placed at greater risk when populations who can be vaccinated are not. Purposely avoiding vaccinations is not only irresponsible on an individual level, it poses a public health risk to the entire community.
The most common fear of people against vaccinations is that vaccinations cause autism. They have the sound evidence of one paper that was later proven to be based on fraudulent results to support their claims. The prevalence of autism has been increasing over the past decade, but there are numerous risk factors based on actual scientific facts that could account for the increase. For example, if parents are older when they have their child, the child is at greater risk for autism, or if parents have previously had an autistic child, they are at greater risk for their next child to be autistic as well. With regards to the first reason, there is long standing evidence that, past a certain age, people face greater chances of their children having certain deficits. The latter reason is supported by research on genetics. In contrast, there is no research that supports vaccines causing autism. Even if they did, why would parents prefer their children face a life-threatening disease instead of possibly having a learning deficit?
The facts and numbers in this post are based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.