With the measles making its way through the country, having infected hundreds of unvaccinated members of the public in 22 states so far, health experts and elected officials are on high alert to prevent the outbreak from growing out of control and putting vulnerable patients at risk. Meanwhile, the public is left to process the sudden influx of information and news stories surrounding measles. The misunderstanding of this information can lead to the inception of damaging myths, so let’s nip some of these myths in the bud right now.
Here are three measles vaccine myths that you need to know:
The Most Up-to-Date MMR Vaccine Puts Your Child at Risk For Autism
First and foremost, it’s important to emphasize and debunk the most damaging myth of all: The combined MMR vaccine does not trigger autism in children. The World Health Organization recently named the overall anti-vaccine movement one of the top ten threats to global health, as vaccines of all kinds prevent the deaths of two to three million people each year. Per WHO estimates, another 1.5 million lives could be saved if vaccine availability and use were more widespread.
The original study that linked the MMR vaccine to autism was small and poorly designed, involving only 12 children and was run by a researcher who had significant conflicts of interest in the outcome of the study. The study was pulled from the medical journal and has since been refuted by large, well-designed studies. Most recently, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine earlier this year found absolutely no correlation between the MMR vaccine and autism in children, whether or not they were at risk for developing autism.
Anti-Vaxxers Are Dumb
The next myth is one that prevents a productive and necessary dialogue between anti-vaxxer communities and health professionals. Sonia Sodha for The Guardian points out that the anti-vaccine conspiracies that have flourished among progressive, higher-income families stem from real concerns and a real impulse to protect children from harm. “Some of [the anti-vaxxers] will be parents with autistic children,” wrote Sodha in her piece discouraging the general public from ridiculing people who can’t seem to believe the science behind the MMR vaccine. “One of the cruel ways in which autism can manifest itself is children who seem to be developing normally in their first year or two start to regress, often around the same age they might have the MMR jab.” Sodha suggests that the trauma and fear of autism is what is driving the belief in anti-vaxxer conspiracies.
A general mistrust of the medical community and pharmaceutical companies also feeds into anti-vaxxer conspiracies. Consider Purdue Pharma’s insistence that OxyContin was a safe and non-addictive painkiller, though the painkiller has instead been one of the major players in the deadly opioid crisis. Some health professionals had been profiting off of the administration of the drug, while others were just plain ignorant of the ramifications of overprescribing a lethally addictive medication. Every time drug companies and medical professionals choose profits over patients, it erodes public trust and can breed anti-science sentiment that contributes to the anti-vaxxer movement.
The Orthodox Jewish community is also contending with its own historical baggage that is contributing to an anti-medicine stance. Sarah Maslin Nir of the New York Times podcast The Daily noted that there is a deep-rooted skepticism for some members of the community who recall the medical experiments that Nazi researchers performed on Jewish victims during the Holocaust. When the medical community today insists that these communities “just trust the data,” it involves more than just convincing people of the facts; it involves a reckoning of trauma.
The Orthodox Jewish Community Doesn’t Believe in Vaccines
This myth is dangerous because it can lead to anti-Semitic ideas and sentiment among communities who live alongside Orthodox Jewish enclaves. Because members of the Orthodox Jewish community are easily identifiable by their manner of dress — as opposed to secular anti-vaxxers — the risk for discrimination is real.
There’s a misunderstanding among the general public that Orthodox Jews are inclined to believe that a close or out-of-date reading of the Torah forbids the use of vaccines. In fact, just as the non-Jewish anti-vaxxer community represents only a small but vocal sect of Americans, Orthodox Jewish anti-vaxxers only represent a small but vocal sect of their community who have been swayed by campaigns of misinformation. Furthermore, every religion, including Christianity, has a small sect of believers who feel that medical intervention goes against their interpretation of religious texts.
Prominent Jewish scholars have long-endorsed the use of vaccinations, and have been enthusiastic proponents of their use in the wake of the measles outbreak. “Since it is proven that vaccines are effective to prevent the spread of disease, it is an obligation upon every father to vaccinate his children,” the vice president of the Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem wrote in an open letter to a major U.S. Orthodox seminary, characterizing vaccination as a devout obligation.