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The Daily Tar Heel

Guest Column: Vaccinations don't cause autism

There are plenty of conspiracy theories that can become believable if you stay on the internet long enough, but vaccinations causing autism isn’t one of them.

The Center for Disease Control confirmed that there have been over 1,200 cases of measles in 31 different states since the beginning of the year. Last week alone, there were six cases of mumps at High Point and Elon University. This illness is completely preventable with the MMR vaccine, which is required across the state at all public institutions. Well, that is of course, if you don’t have a government-approved exemption.

There are only two ways to bypass vaccination requirements in North Carolina, the first being a certified medical exemption from a licensed physician. This exemption is usually only offered when an immunization could potentially be detrimental to an individual’s health and is reserved for immunosuppressed individuals who adhere to other preventative measures. The other way to get out of the vaccination stipulations, and the one that is used regularly by anti-vaccination families, is exemption by religious belief. 

Under current North Carolina law, a parent can simply prepare a statement that includes their religious beliefs, why those beliefs prevent their child from completing the immunization requirements and who they are requesting exemptions for. And just like that, upon submission of the statement, the child may attend a university, school, facility or program without presentation of an official immunization record. The kicker? These statements do not need to be notarized, signed by religious leaders, prepared by an attorney or even submitted to the state for approval.

This isn’t just a North Carolina problem either; 44 other states allow vaccination exemptions based on religious or "personal" beliefs. According to the Center for Disease Control, 2017-2018 is the third consecutive year that the MMR vaccination rate has dropped, and the number of children with exemptions for vaccine requirements has increased. 

In this age of misinformation, fake news and the internet revolution, the anti-vaccination movement has been decades in the making. Parents cling onto the idea that vaccines cause autism (when the original studies making these claims were retracted, debunked and the doctor who published them lost his medical license), and groupthink quickly turns these ideas into entire vaccination resistance groups. 

Five states, including New York and California, have already halted the use of religious and philosophical exemptions for vaccination requirements. Given the rising number of preventable outbreaks, it’s time North Carolina do the same. 

Vaccinations are arguably one of the most impactful contributions of science to our daily lives, and they undergo long periods of testing and review by the government, scientists and medical workers before even becoming available to the public. Some illnesses and diseases such as measles, mumps and whooping cough are considered completely preventable by vaccinations. However, children and individuals continue to be hospitalized by these illnesses in North Carolina and across the country. 

Children who are kept from being vaccinated pose huge public health risks to anyone they might come in contact with. Relying on herd immunity is naive, and these unvaccinated children are potentially endangering the lives of others.

In order to prevent the continuous outbreaks of diseases that should be completely eradicated, policy changes need to be made. These changes should specifically address vaccination requirement exemptions in order to protect vulnerable children. This should be accompanied by public health initiatives that focus on the importance of vaccinations for not only unvaccinated children but also every other person that they could come into contact with.

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