Op-Ed — Autism community favors vaccination – Norman Transcript
Although Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 study claiming a link between autism and the Measles vaccine has been scientifically disproven, you can still hear his name in the halls of the Oklahoma Legislature as lawmakers debate vaccine safety.
In the midst of this debate is a startling irony. The overwhelming majority of parents with autistic children understand that vaccinations are effective and safe. So do national advocacy organizations such as the Autism Society and the National Autism Network. In Oklahoma, practically all of the autistic children in public schools have been vaccinated, and certainly all the autistic children in my pediatrics practice are vaccinated.
Oklahoma mothers Amber Theinert and Amy Smith both have autistic children, so naturally, they have encountered people who oppose vaccinations. Theinert, of Midwest City, knows the diseases that vaccinations prevent can be far worse than autism.
Smith remembers the roller-coaster ride caused by the Wakefield study. Her son was a baby when the news first came out. The Ada mother said it was tempting to blame her son’s condition on something, but after research, she continued to have her children immunized.
Today’s anti-vaccine movement relies on misinformation based on a growing social tendency to ignore experts and base fact on internet opinions. Nowadays, all it takes to be an expert is a smartphone and a Facebook page. Political candidates, documentary filmmakers and a cadre of celebrities have all jumped on board.
To some, internet misinformation is more convincing than numerous research studies and recommendations from health care advisory groups, including the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
There has been a three-year battle at the Capitol to eliminate a law that allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their children without a medical excuse prior to enrolling in public school. It has been an uphill fight as legislators have allowed parental freedom of choice to trump Oklahoma’s public health. Despite heavy compromises, this year, a proposal to eliminate the law still failed in the Senate.
Oklahoma is among only 18 states that allow families to opt out of vaccinations. It’s a law that opens the door to further declining vaccination rates and increasing danger to public health. Nearly 600 cases of Mumps have been diagnosed in Oklahoma last year, and a colleague in our office recently diagnosed an unimmunized child with Mumps — the first case I’ve seen in three decades.
If everyone is vaccinated, “herd immunity” is achieved and Oklahomans are more protected from numerous infectious diseases. As more children enter our schools each year without vaccinations, immunization rates fall, herd immunity fades, vulnerability grows and outbreaks such as Mumps develop.
Unfortunately, I’ve come to the realization that our Legislature will not act to protect our citizens from vaccine-preventable diseases, unless there is a massive outbreak of disease similar to the Disneyland Measles epidemic of 2014.
The time has come for our state health officials to fully acknowledge the importance of vaccinations, turn the developing tide of anti-vaccination sentiment and strengthen our school vaccination requirements.
Dr. Thomas Kuhls is a Norman pediatrician and former OU professor of infectious diseases and immunology. He is co-founder of Vaccinate Oklahoma.