As measles makes a comeback in their own state, hundreds of parents rallied at the Washington State Legislature this Friday as lawmakers considered whether or not to disallow the state to give out vaccine exemptions for philosophical or personal reasons. But these parents weren’t gathering to decry the public health threat that’s bearing down on their community. They are the reason for it, and they make no apologies.
There are now more than 50 cases of measles in the state of Washington after a outbreak surfaced in Clark County, a known anti-vaccination hot spot. Figures indicate that the county’s population is below the 92-94 percent vaccination rate needed to maintain the proper “herd immunity” to stave off disease.
It’s a predicament only made possible by people refusing to vaccinate themselves and their children — people whose actions led to a breaking point that forced lawmakers to consider whether to only allow exemptions for urgent medical reasons. Washington is one of 17 states that still allow exemptions for philosophical or personal beliefs.
Last month, Clark County finally declared a state of emergency as the infections grew.
At the hearing this Friday, one of those arguing in favor of the exemptions was Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of the late Robert Kennedy and a leading voice in the “anti-vaxxer” movement.
“Do we want to be a country that forces children or parents to engage in risky medical interventions without informed consent?” Kennedy said, according to OPB.org.
He and others of his ilk are outright rejecting established science on the safety of vaccines and spreading disinformation, continuing the legacy of a disgraced British doctor named Andrew Wakefield, whose retracted study in the Lancet medical journal sparked a wave of gullible foot soldiers duped into the fraudulent belief that vaccines are linked to autism. The movement has grown exponentially and is bolstered by activists on the ground who spread the lie from community to community. Making matters worse, it’s endorsed by celebrities with huge followings such as actors Jenny McCarthy and Robert De Niro and SNL alum Rob Schneider, to politicians which include, you guessed it, Donald Trump.
The conspiracy theory behind vaccine denial has evolved over the years. While the alleged secret autism link was the main focus originally, other forms of fearful rhetoric have materialized, such as the claim that untold numbers of children are “vaccine injured,” a vague term that can encompass any kind of symptom or debilitation that a parent can link to a vaccine their child received at some point.
Speaking to CBS News, rally attendee Abigail Eckhart said that she refuses to vaccinate her youngest child because her middle child “suffered significant behavioral and physical reactions” after being vaccinated.
“If you would have asked me four years ago, I would have told you, yeah, every child needs their vaccines because,” she said. “If I could go back, I wouldn’t have vaccinated any of my kids.”
Nearly all the children with measles in Washington state were unvaccinated.
Eckhart, along with her anti-vaccine comrades, are a perfect example of the power of conspiracy theories and pseudoscience designed to spread fear. Even as children around them fall ill to a disease that was eradicated 18 years ago, these parents took to the state legislature’s steps with placards in hand to fight for the right to expose their children to the same risk.
Unfortunately, this public health threat isn’t going away anytime soon.
Featured image via screen grab/CBS News