The idea of ‘anti-vaxxers’ seemed to stem from the MMR vaccination controversy, which originated in 1998, with a publication by Andrew Wakefield that linked that very vaccine with autism. This quickly resulted in a sharp drop in vaccination rates in the UK and Ireland, along with the increase of measles and mumps, resulting in deaths and permanent injuries in the aftermath.
Wakefield’s fraudulent research paper that had linked the vaccine to autism had multiple conflicts of interest, and journalists as well as some scientists disproved Wakefield’s point. His paper reported on twelve children with developmental disorders, whose parents linked the behavioural symptoms to the MMR vaccination.
The idea that a vaccine could cause autism quickly began to grow momentum when in 2002, political coverage grew restless in questioning whether then Prime Minister Tony Blair had vaccinated his infant son Leo. This idea gained national publicity, with 32 per cent of stories written about MMR mentioning Leo, whilst only 25 per cent mentioned Wakefield. As a result of this scare, the confidence in the MMR fell from 59 per cent to 41 per cent.
However, Wakefield’s incredulous claims were quickly refuted when it was revealed that Wakefield had bribed young children at his son’s birthday party in order to take their blood to support his ideas. Wakefield was quickly stripped of his medical licence in the UK, and the confidence in the MMR vaccine began to grow again. Now there seems to be a repeat of the dilemma that took the UK by storm in the early 2000s, only this time it’s happening in America. What is it that has scared people enough to stop vaccinating their children again?
Wakefield moved to Texas after his disgrace in the UK, and made a living promoting his discredited theories in the U.S. He has been able to do this through the rise of social media and Facebook groups, spreading his ideals mainly to women who have joined the anti-vaccination groups. Starting in 2010, Wakefield began visiting a Somali community in Minnesota, and through spreading his propaganda about the dangers of vaccination, the community suffered the worst measles outbreak in decades.
With the rise of social media being prominent in everyday lives, this has allowed for the emergence of social media ‘influencers’. Amongst them, is one Kat Von D, who publicly announced that she was an ‘anti-vaxxer’ who would be raising her child on a vegan diet without vaccines. Kat Von D owns a makeup brand and also has a large social media following from her YouTube channel. This decision of hers naturally raises that — now — familiar question: just how much power do social media influencers have?
This decision being announced in such a public manner resulted in a large outcry. Many people agreed that this was harmful to those who may be swayed by her influence and power. Others argued that regardless of her personal choice, such a decision was harmful to those with weaker immune systems that relied on mob mentalities in order to stay alive and healthy. If someone is unable to receive vaccines due to various problems, they most likely rely on others to get vaccinated so that serious illnesses and diseases are prevented and not passed around.
However, not all hope seems to be lost. Australia recently revealed new plans to strengthen its policies against children not being vaccinated. They would issue further financial sanctions to parents who refused to vaccinate their children. The plans are that parents would lose $28 a fortnight from tax benefits for each individual child that was not currently up-to-date with immunisations. Previously, Australia has maintained their rigid vaccination policies, with parents whose children were out-of-date with vaccinations losing an end-of-year payment to their family tax benefit, worth $737. The fortnightly sanction will cause parents to overall lose out on the same amount, but the aim here is to have something serve as a constant reminder as well as an incentive.
In the future, there may be a potential increase in the number of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. This decision could put many people at risk and also serve to reintroduce diseases that were previously extinct.
With the number of people agreeing to vaccinations and those refusing constantly seeing fluctuation, it remains unclear what the next decade will hold in store when it comes to children’s health and social, media-induced, trends.