Australia Is Cracking Down on Vaccine Truthers, and America Should Too

You know a cause is sketchy when Kristin Cavallari of the angst-filled, teen reality TV shows Laguna Beach and The Hills throws her support behind it. The star is the latest among anti-vaccination advocates, or "vaccination truthers," gaining momentum in the U.S., Europe and other high-income areas privileged enough to entertain the idea. While anti-vaccination beliefs may come packaged alongside choices to refrain from eating gluten, using plastic bottles or even adhering to religious dogma, health decisions that threaten schools, cities and societies cannot enjoy the protection of "liberty." 


Image Credit: AP. Actress Kristin Cavallari.

Australia has made a move to stand up to groups spreading misinformation about vaccination. The country has stripped the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network of its charity status. Officials cited misinformation and its potential to damage the health of children as its reason, according to ABC News.

And maybe other countries – including the United States – should follow suit.

Playing into the very real fears of mothers for the safety of their children, anti-vaccination groups allege that vaccinations cause autism in babies and children. Originating mainly from a fraudulent paper in the medical journal The Lancet, so-called scientific evidence argued that there were links between measles, mumps and rubella vaccines and an increased incidence of autism. The article was later retracted. 

"I hope that those who are vaccine-hesitant or vaccine-avoidant realize there are consequences to their actions," Dr. Buddy Creech, a pediatric infectious disease expert, told CNN. "None of us lives in isolation."

The New York State Department of Health puts it simply: "People should get vaccinated because vaccines prevent disease." Haven't heard of the epidemic scares of whooping cough, smallpox or polio? That's largely because of how successful vaccinations have been, something the U.S. and other countries have enjoyed – for now.

Anti-vaccination claims, similar to the high school drama-style rumors of Laguna Beach, quickly spread. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the U.K.'s National Health Service have all quashed those misapprehensions. 


Image Credit: Twitter.

Autism Speaks, one of the largest autism research and support organizations in the U.S., weighed in on the issue on its website: 

"It remains possible that, in rare cases, immunization may trigger the onset of autism symptoms in a child with an underlying medical or genetic condition. ... We strongly encourage parents to have their children vaccinated for protection against serious disease."

Measles is spreading at an alarming rate in the United States, including through upper Manhattan and the Bronx, N.Y., Greater Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Los Angeles. 


Image Credit: The Los Angeles Times.

After last year's outbreak of this dated disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that of all cases, 82% occurred in unvaccinated people. The overwhelming majority of them stated that they had deliberately chosen not to be vaccinated on "philosophical grounds."

While organizations like the National Vaccine Information Center, an anti-vaccination nonprofit, or the popular advocacy group Jenny McCarthy Body Count continue to thrive in the U.S. and other high-income countries, children are being put at risk. While the intention behind abstaining from vaccinations may be born of good intentions, its effects are severe and extremely real. Health advocates should continue pressuring government leaders to review the health data and reconsider the support anti-vaccination truthers currently receive. 

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Marguerite Ward

Marguerite Ward is a journalist and editor based in New York. Connect with her @forwardist.

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