Why Oh Why Are People Still Afraid of Vaccines?

Whooping cough might sound like a disease from your great-grandmother’s era. But cases of pertussis have tripled since last year and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared an epidemic of the disease in Washington state, whose vaccination rate is the lowest in the US. Indeed, other infectious diseases that we’ve grown to consider relics of the past — measles — have resurfaced in the US.

What puzzles public health officials is why, despite stepped-up public health campaigns to raise awareness about the need for vaccination, more parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children as a study published on September 20 in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) reports.

The Rise and Fall of Andrew Wakefield and a Very Misguided Theory

When my son Charlie was born in 1997, getting him immunized seemed a matter of protocol. I still remember the yearly check-ups with Dr. Lee; “shots” were always last and the part I hated the most. My parents had both worked in hospitals and I rigorously followed the schedule of vaccinations, feeling those tugs at the heartstrings when Charlie wriggled, wailed and was pinned down to get his shots.

Then Charlie was diagnosed with autism in 1999 and my husband Jim found ourselves inundated with information (mostly from the internet) about one particular theory of autism associated with a British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, who claimed that the MMR was linked to autism. We dug into our memories to recall Charlie’s reactions to the vaccines he’d been given. Though there was nothing very dramatic — no “overnight” loss of language as some parents have ardently described — we chose not to have Charlie have his scheduled vaccines when he was 5. We sought religious exemptions for a few years before concluding what we had long thought, that Charlie was born autistic and that no external environmental agent had “triggered” autism in him.

Charlie is 15 now. Wakefield’s 1998 study linking the MMR to autism has been retracted by the British medical journal, The Lancet, that published it and he is no longer able to practice medicine in the UK. Scientific studies refuting a vaccine-autism link have accrued.

Fear and Uncertainty About Vaccines Remain

Yet parents are as wary, if not distrustful and downright scared, of vaccines as ever and no matter how much doctors and public health officials explain how immunizations not only protect your child but an entire community due to the creation of herd immunity (when a high-enough percentage of people in a community are vaccinated, those who are not vaccinated such as babies are protected).

Washington State Has Lowest Vaccine Rate in the US

Accordingly, states are starting to take action to address low vaccination rates. Last year, Washington state adopted a law making it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinating a child in order for him or her to attend public school.  In the decade ending in 2008, the number of parents seeking exemptions from immunizing their children more than doubled in the state of Washington. In the 2008-2009 school year, the parents of 7.6 percent of kindergartners sought exemptions.

But already under the new law, the opt-out rate in Washington has fallen by a quarter, the New York Times notes.

Other states may well follow Washington’s leads and pass similar legislation to make it harder to secure an exemption. Currently, 48 states allow parents to request religious exemptions for vaccinations (the exceptions are Mississippi and West Virginia) and 20 allow parents to request such on philosophical grounds.

Vaccines: A Matter of the Heart?

Children need to be vaccinated and parents who opt out must keep in mind that infectious diseases can be deadly. But I wonder if the medical and scientific establishment, in their concerted efforts to exhort parents to immunize children, have not taken sufficiently into account the emotions affecting parents’ choices. These are so strong, and run so deep, as to make a person give a nod to “the science” and then go look for answers of her own (which the internet has, of course, made amply available). The whole business of getting a child immunized — the long needles, the syringes, even the word “shot” (or “jab” in the UK) — smacks of harm and hurt and gives rise to a parent’s instincts to protect, rational thinking be damned.

I think Wakefield understood all this and it is extremely unfortunate, if not tragic, that he used this understanding to promote an incorrect notion, that vaccines or something in vaccines could be linked to autism. This idea, in all its wrongheadedness, lives a stubborn half-life.

While legislation like Washington state’s is crucial for our public health, I suspect such laws may only increase distrust and defiance in those doubtful about vaccines. Perhaps the message we need to send out is not “vaccinate your child because, studies show this will protect their health” but rather “you love your child — vaccinate!”


Related Care2 Coverage

Preventable Whooping Cough Cases Tripled Since Last Year

Whooping Cough Cases Highest in 50 Years

95% US Kids Vaccinated, But Parents Still Have (Autism) Worries


Photo by Dave Hargarth


Susan V.
Susan V3 years ago


People assume those who question vaccine safety are anti-vaccine They see the issue as black or white - no nuances-- To imply that not vaccinating your child means you don't love your child is just downright cruel. Anyone who's heard the stories of children who were perfectly normal and then nearly brain dead the next day after a vaccine and the suffering that child endured for years before he died are not trying to be burdens on society and they are not unloving parents for wanting to be sure the vaccines are as safe as they can possibly be. They are caring and smart, and Andrew Wakefield is on youtube all over the place standing up for his research which has been vindicated. He merely suggested breaking up the MMR into separate vaccines. Common sense will tell you that not stressing a child's immune system with more than one vaccine at a time will less likely trigger any underlying immune dysfunction. And since we live in a world where children are usually bombarded with numerous chemicals daily, it makes since in today's world not to overload their systems with mercury or other toxic ingredients that COULD be replaced in vaccines.
By the way, the flu shot still contains mercury, but you can ask for the ones that don't - CVS, for example gets it both way - out of the vial, it's got mercury -- separately packaged, it doesn't.

Maybe vaccination is a necessary evil,

Paul Blake ND
Paul Blake5 years ago

ScienceDaily (Oct. 1, 2012)
Misconduct, Not Error, Accounts for Most Scientific Paper Retractions: 10-Fold Increase in Fraud-Related Retractions Found

In sharp contrast to previous studies suggesting that errors account for the majority of retracted scientific papers, a new analysis -- the most comprehensive of its kind -- has found that misconduct is responsible for two-thirds of all retractions. Included fraud or suspected fraud, duplicate publication and plagiarism. The paper's findings show as a percentage of all scientific articles published, retractions for fraud or suspected fraud have increased 10-fold since 1975.

Researchers found that 21 percent of the retractions were attributable to error, while 67 percent were due to misconduct, including fraud or suspected fraud (43 percent), duplicate publication (14 percent), and plagiarism (10 percent). Miscellaneous or unknown reasons accounted for the remaining 12 percent.

"What's troubling is that the more skillful the fraud, the less likely that it will be discovered, so there likely are more fraudulent papers out there that haven't yet been detected and retracted," said Dr. Casadevall

Paper Title, "Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications." Other authors are Ferric Fang, M.D. (University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA) and R. Grant Steen, Ph.D. (Medical Communications Consultants, Chapel Hill, NC).

Doc Blake

Robert P.
Robert P5 years ago

The people that are refusing shots are the ones that have done the most in depth research. In spite of her quotes it is Rebecca P that is ignorant of the facts. You need to believe that the media and the drug companies love you and care about you and are honest. Evidence is only as good as it's source. You obviously get all your information from the corrupt mainstream, and then believe it all , blindly following, never questioning. You ignore all the tons of evidence out there to the contrary, assuming that the statistics are true but are likely compiled from the drug companies or their cronies. Their convictions or fines alone should be enough to tip you off. Look around first hand. There is more disease and sickness and poor health than ever in history. We may live longer now but what kind of life is it if we are full of disease. Does that look like the government, the medical community, the drug companies and mainstream media are doing a great job.

Robert P.
Robert P5 years ago

Should we trust the drug companies, the ones who put mercury in shots. The most toxic metal on the planet. Then they claim to have quit using mercury. I doubt they are honest about that and how would we know. Why did they use mercury in the first place. We known for many years how toxic it is so the drug companies were injecting this into us knowingly. Does that sound like someone we can trust and that cares about and loves you. The internet has truthful information and false info and we have to sort it out, but we cannot count on getting the truth from the corrupt mainstream. They have everything to gain by going with the rich and powerful, it helps their bottom line. And do not expect the FDA or the CDC to be honest. They allow side effects of tuberculosis, cancer, heart attack, stroke, liver failure and death. The most conserative estimate of deaths per year by properly presribed drugs is over 100,000 and that does not include horrible side effects in those numbers. That is who we should trust.

Robert P.
Robert P5 years ago

More garbage from Miss Chew. I would like to see your pay check from the drug companies. Either that or you refuse to look at the evidence. Past articles have shown the same ignorance or conflict of interest. Not only are there many, many experts including doctors, researchers and scientists that say vaccinations are ineffective but bad for us. Of course their research was not paid for by the drug companies. So when you say what science says be clear as to whose science. And you will not find the truth in mainstream, they get huge sums of money for advertising from the drug compnies. I have talked to people first hand that have had vaccinations that got the illness that the vaccination was to prevent, or got sck from the vaccination. And to Rebecca, when somone gets vaccinated and has an immediate reaction it has nothing to do with cell phones. Get a clue. Can you add 2 2. Did you know Rebecca that the drug compnies have been fined for altering research results and hiding bad outcomes. It is a matter of public record.

Joanne Dixon
Joanne Dixon5 years ago

Just an add to my previous post.


Franshisca D.

Noted TY

Rebecca P.
Rebecca P5 years ago

"Do You need to put a cocktail of chemicals to prevent an infection from poliovirus? since "Approximately 95 to 99 percent of people who are infected with poliovirus never develop polio symptoms.." http://polio.emedtv.com/polio/cure-for-polio.html "

You conveniently forgot the bold type at the very begining of the article:

"Although polio has no cure, prevention is available through a vaccine. In the United States, it is given as an inactivated polio vaccine. Approximately 90 percent or more of polio vaccine recipients develop protective antibodies to all three poliovirus types after two doses, and at least 99 percent are immune following three doses."

ricardo jesus
ricardo jesus5 years ago

Found it interesting and a bit informative =x

ricardo jesus
ricardo jesus5 years ago

Do You need to put a cocktail of chemicals to prevent an infection from poliovirus? since "Approximately 95 to 99 percent of people who are infected with poliovirus never develop polio symptoms.." http://polio.emedtv.com/polio/cure-for-polio.html