Centuries ago in 1796, scientist Edward Jenner combated smallpox with the first successful vaccine.[1] However, it was not until Elvis Presley received a Polio vaccine live on television that vaccines became a part of society-at-large. 90% of Americans under 20 had received shots after Presley received a vaccine on TV. Before Presley was vaccinated, only 75% of Americans had been.[2] While a vast majority of credible scientists and medical professionals have all encouraged the usage of vaccines, there has been a movement of citizens who believe that vaccines are detrimental to the people that use them. This movement has been growing rapidly over the past couple of years, specifically since 2013. However, the anti-vax movement at-large began in 1998. A majority of anti-vaxxers are members of Generation X or millennials. Because of this, their children are all at school-age.

A History Lesson

Andrew Wakefield was the first scientist to ever bring up the idea of vaccines and autism being linked, publishing a report on the matter in 1998. Wakefield quickly had his medical license taken away in the same year. And, as of 2010, it has not been renewed and it is unlikely it ever will be. Wakefield losing his license, however, did not halt the momentum of the anti-vax movement that had been coming into existence.

An example of how the anti-vax movement was the sudden measles outbreak in 2014. Graph courtesy of CDC.

The anti-vax movement in the United States first began to become mainstream in 2008, when actress Jenny McCarthy claimed that vaccines had a link to her son’s autism. She stated that Evan began suffering from seizures after receiving a vaccine, and eventually developed autism. However, some experts have stated that Evan likely actually suffers from Landau-Kleffner syndrome.[3] This disease is commonly mistaken as autism. It is also important to note that autism is usually something diagnosed during early childhood, it is a condition that is based on the brain’s structure. It is not something that a child can develop.[4]

How This Affects Students

Obviously, a vaccinated child does not have to worry about catching a disease from an unvaccinated child. With that said, there is still the risk of an un-vaccinated child passing a disease along to another. Typically, public schools do not allow unvaccinated children to enter into schooling. However, there are many schools across the nation that do not uphold that law, or uphold it loosely. In fact, currently, the New York legislature is voting to bar a law that states that students can exempt from vaccines for religious reasons.

The other way this affects students, and people in general, it through a phenomenon known as herd immunity. Herd immunity mainly protects people who are immunocompromised, meaning that their immune system is not properly functioning. This is most commonly found in people who have previously experienced chemotherapy or have some sort of underlying condition.

People who are immunocompromised have a very high chance of becoming infected if herd immunity fails, or when the “wall” of vaccinated people is non-existent, so the disease can get through.

“It’s very important for students to get vaccinated because it gives them antibodies from the diseases. It not only protects them but also protects people around them, specifically infants and senior citizens who may have weaker immune syndromes,” school nurse Jackie Angelino said. “If a student is not vaccinated, then we have certain regulations or exemptions for some students. They have an affidavit they have to complete every two years, which they must send to the state department. This gives them exemptions from all vaccines. If they do not have this filled in and are not vaccinated, they are not allowed in the school.”

The Future of Vaccines

The anti-vax movement has gained considerable momentum in the past couple of years, and the government is beginning to take notice. The New York State Legislature is currently pushing to negate children from not receiving vaccines for religious reasons, as organizations such as the CDC continue to push families across the country to get their children vaccinated. GoFundMe has also recently decided to ban anti-vax related movements from their website.