The recent measles outbreak in Disneyland is yet another reminder of the many risks posed by vaccination. “The third leading cause of death for children under five is disease; which means that vaccines may be needed to save a child’s life and prevent complications,” says Dr. David Vladeck, CNN health correspondent and CNN Health Expert.
Vaccination protects us against diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella and polio. Across the world, immunization is on the rise, with rates ranging from 97% to 99% across the globe. But, it is also important to know that in some states in the U.S., laws still allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children.
Now, a measles outbreak has swept over California, prompting thousands of parents to pull their children from schools. At a time when data on vaccine uptake is vital for preventing epidemics, San Francisco resident Erin O’Toole is seeing the issue of children’s vaccination levels as a political minefield. The pediatrician and Instagram star has condemned what she describes as, “social contract violation of a staggering degree”. In her book, “Being a Young, African-American Doctor in a White Profession,” O’Toole also gets in on the act, asking, “Will vaccination rates ever truly come up and be taken as true risk for which responsibility must be charged?”
What is it about this particular story that has drawn more people to Dr. O’Toole’s views than most vaccines? Could it be, like the “anti-vaxxer” movement before it, that a private, personality-driven campaign may be setting a dangerous precedent for children and parents?
I first became aware of Dr. O’Toole’s views and opinions on vaccinations while working at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) as one of the few African-American American members, and into my very first winter in D.C. Before long, I saw a YouTube video of O’Toole speaking and was immediately converted. When you’re in the workplace every day, it’s sometimes hard to know when and what steps to take to ensure your children are protected from disease and development issues. But watching O’Toole in her eight-hour workday of standing in front of a mirror, talking about vaccination rates in her native Carolina, made me realize my own perspective on the matter could help me do things in a more deliberate way. She clearly didn’t need a doctor to tell her a child was at risk for putting her at risk for certain diseases, given her decades of practice.
Last year, news broke that she had taken a two-year hiatus from practicing to focus on “personal fulfillment.” But, she’s back now, and she still has her ear to the ground as a leading voice on the topic of immunization. She recently returned from a trip to Israel, where she spoke with a Jewish friend and father who shared with her that his child received his vaccine the same day he was born. The two went to a popular Israeli food cafe and “had a long, pointed conversation” about vaccinations. The real kicker of the conversation, though, was when O’Toole asked her friend why her child didn’t get the vaccine. His response: “’Because it’s not me that’s to blame here. It’s the people who don’t like vaccines.’”
There you have it, in simple, black and white terms. If we continue to see a rise in anti-vaccination ideas in the U.S., this trend could certainly see an increased level of political support for pseudoscience. This issue may cause further division, which does little to solve our problem as a country. And, an untold number of people will be holding their head high despite it all because they won’t be swayed by what other people say.