Editorial: Dangerous message on city buses

Last modified: 10/26/2014 1:09:00 AM
Vaccines have saved millions of people from scourges like smallpox, tuberculosis and yellow fever. They’ve nearly wiped out polio and protected people against influenza or made the infection, if contracted, less dangerous. They prevent death from tetanus, and if used in time, from rabies. They’ve made childhood diseases like measles, mumps, whooping cough and diphtheria rare. With luck, one or more of the three vaccines being developed to combat the Ebola virus will prove safe and effective. That’s why the signs on Concord buses crafted to convince the public to question the wisdom of getting vaccinated are irresponsible and dangerous.

To the chagrin of the Community Action Program of Belknap-Merrimack Counties, which operates Concord’s public transportation system, CAP belatedly learned that the ad agency it uses rented billboard space on the city’s buses to the so-called National Vaccine Information Center, a group that uses pseudo-science and fear to persuade parents not to vaccinate their children. An observant reader, David Bates of Warner, alerted us to the bus ads, which are part of a national anti-vaccination campaign that’s been blamed for a resurgence of measles and whooping cough in parts of California.

The signs, which direct readers to the group’s website, portray a mother kissing a laughing baby, along with copy that says, “VACCINATIONS? Know the risk and the failures.” If enough viewers follow the group’s advice and seek an exemption from the state law that makes obtaining vaccinations against dangerous childhood diseases a prerequisite for attending school, it would create a threat to public health. It would also endanger the lives of countless children.

The contention that vaccines increase the risk of autism in children has been thoroughly debunked by medical science. The side effects and harms attributed to one vaccine or another, while in some cases real, are rare and, with proper screening, largely avoidable. In sum, vaccinations are, for the vast majority of people, beneficial and safe.

The Community Action Program, whose policies prohibit ads for alcohol and tobacco products and political messages, plans to increase scrutiny and revisit its advertising policy. The contract to run the anti-vaccine ads expires on Nov. 2 and will not be renewed.

The anti-vaccine movement is a dangerous fad, one akin to campaigns against psychiatric help or traditional Western medicine. The campaign, under the reasonable-sounding guise of advocating for parental choice in the matter, argues against vaccination. But personal choice, in this case, comes at a great cost to society. Vaccines protect not only the person who was vaccinated, but everyone that person comes into contact with. That includes the very young and very old, and people who, for medical reasons, can’t be vaccinated.

Epidemiologists say protection is weakened or lost when more than 8 percent of a given population goes unvaccinated. In some California schools, thanks to the anti-vaccine campaign, one-quarter of all students avoid vaccination.

Oddly, the wealthier the community, the more susceptible its parents appear to be to the anti-vaccine campaign. As a result, according to Dr. Paul Offit of the Vaccine Information Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, California has seen 8,000 cases of pertussis or whooping cough in the past year alone. Like measles, it was a disease that had nearly been wiped out before its recent resurgence. More than 250 children had to be hospitalized and 58 required intensive care. Measles and mumps, diseases that vaccination once made rare, have also made a return and caused needless deaths. Vaccines aren’t perfect but they work, and their widespread use benefits everyone.

Come November, let the anti-vaccine campaign gather its signs and take the bus back to LaLa Land. Let’s hope their brief appearance in Concord did no harm.


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