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The Anti-Vaccination Epidemic

In the year 2018, with all of our great technological advancements in healthcare, one would think that diseases such as measles and whooping cough would be eradicated by now. However, in the past several years, the anti-vaccine movement has been on the rise, leading to a resurgence of diseases once thought to be problems of the past. In his article, Pediatrician-scientist Peter J Hotex examines the hot spots of the anti-vaccination movement and how they came to be.

According to Hotex, there are currently 18 states which allow non-medical vaccine exemptions for either “conscientious objector” or “philosophical/personal belief” reasons. In 12 of those states, the number of people embracing those exemptions are on the rise, particularly in the Pacific Northwest (ID, OR, and WA) and the Southwest (AZ, MO, OK, TX, UT). Two of these states, Oklahoma and Texas, have even gone so far as to lobby their legislatures and raise campaign funds for candidates who endorse the anti-vaccination movement. Hotex also notes that anti-vaccination supporters effectively use social media to spread their message, at times creating an “echo chamber” effect that strongly reinforces their own beliefs. Hotex asserts that the combination of a social media presence and political support makes the anti-vaccination movement very dangerous, highlighting recent measles outbreaks in Minnesota, New York, and Missouri, and the nearly 200 child deaths from influenza as a result of not being vaccinated.

From a Networks perspective, this situation can be modeled as an epidemic. While it is true that vaccines are not 100 percent effective, they still greatly decrease the spread of the disease. By not allowing their children to be vaccinated, anti-vaccination parents are needlessly increasing the value of p (the probability of the disease spreading) along all edges (contact with other kids) connected to their child. This means that their decision is not only affecting their child, but also any other child in the network, including those that have a medically valid reason for not being vaccinated. The reason that mandatory vaccines are so controversial is that some people are frightened by the idea of unwarranted government intervention, but the fact is that there is sound science in support of vaccines and no reason to be afraid of them being mandatory. Clearly vaccines are the best way to protect against the spread of disease, but I would argue that if someone doesn’t want to do their part to decrease the probability of disease spread, they should at the very least be barred from enrolling their children in public schools in order to decrease the value of k (the number of contacts by each person), which would also help reduce the spread of disease.



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