No US Government organization (that I know of) openly encouraged discontinuation of MMR vaccinations for children in wake of the study linking it to autism. But what if they had? John McCain bought into the claim. As did Oprah Winfrey and Jenny McCarthy (who somehow became an authority despite basing her claim on seeing her child’s soul leave after he got the vaccine). This idiocy prompted actress Amanda Peet to join the opposing team and become a spokesperson for “Vaccinate Your Baby.”
But celebrities (and even politicians) buy into fake science all the time. So far we have been, for the most part, okay, right? The problem with this vaccine claim is that something called “herd immunity” exists. A lot of diseases have only been eradicated because of vaccinations and would be back, with force, if the community’s immunity falls. Essentially, the way herd immunity works is if a vast majority of people are vaccinated, the remainder will be protected from the disease by default. That is why certain religious groups can be safely excluded from vaccination requirements. They make up such a small portion of the population that our health isn’t compromised by their religion. (Here is the math on that.) However, the plethora of individuals refusing vaccines due to fake science are jeopardizing the rest of us.
Luckily, the UK government’s actions have led to the retraction of these initial claims. Hopefully, the negative image of vaccinations will fade quickly and we can all forget the decade where we almost all died because people didn’t want to get a shot. But what if this hadn’t happened? What if vaccination rates continued to fall? What would have been the right public policy move?