Ep 32. The Politics of Vaccination

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Vaccination, a marvel of modern medicine that has saved literally millions of lives, remains a contentious issue for some. Recent outbreaks of measles, such as the one in the Somali-American community in Minnesota have raised public health alarm bells. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Health, fewer than 50% of Minnesota children of Somali descent have received the MMR shot that protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. This is in comparison to 2004 when 92% of Somali-Minnesotan children were vaccinated. The drop in vaccination began in 2008 when concerns about autism emerged among Somali parents. These concerns were not properly addressed, and they came at a time that coincided with the visit the area of Andrew Wakefield, the researcher who was exposed for publishing fraudulent research that was later retracted, in which he claimed that the MMR vaccine causes autism. Despite having lost his licence to practice medicine, Wakefield continues to have speaking engagements organized by anti-vaccination groups.

Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children are often portrayed as irrational and anti-science at best. At worst they can justifiably be viewed as presenting avoidable danger to public health, whose children need to be quarantined and kept away from public and private schools where outbreaks happen. However, engaging in the scientific details, and pointing out that the link between vaccination and autism has not been established (in fact the opposite is the case) makes us come to the wrong conclusion about what makes parents fear the protection of their own children against deadly diseases. There is more to this refusal to vaccinate than simply the denial of science.

Topics addressed in this episode include the historical roots of anti-vaccination movements, the impact of vaccination on public health, and the vaccination/autism story.

References cited in this episode:

Understanding The History Behind Communities’ Vaccine Fears, NPR, May 3


Vaccine hesitancy, vaccine refusal and the anti vaccine movement: influence, impact and implications, Expert Review of Vaccines 2015


Values and vaccines: Parents who reject vaccination are making a rational choice – they prefer to put their children above the public good


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