The vaccination debate continues with opposing views. Read what two local individuals have to say.
WEST ISLIP—Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced another 71 cases of the measles in the United States. The majority of cases, 68, are from New York State, mainly in New York City and nearby Rockland County. These numbers brought us to 626 cases throughout the U.S. since the beginning of this year.
Officials say this year’s numbers will likely surpass those in 2014, which saw 667 cases for the entire year. The country’s highest number of cases prior was 963 in 1994, six years before measles was eliminated in the U.S.
Melody Anne Butler, a registered nurse and infection preventionist at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, said outbreaks like these occur when “pockets of communities decide not to vaccinate.”
Although 22 states have reported measles this year, the majority of cases are from New York, and most of those cases are among unvaccinated individuals living in Orthodox Jewish communities, according to reports.
Butler said global travel has allowed diseases to spread more easily, mainly from undeveloped countries where access to vaccines is more limited. This, she said, combined with parents or guardians denying or delaying vaccination, is largely responsible for the current measles outbreak, which has seen numbers not reported in more than two decades.
Butler is the founding executive director of Nurses Who Vaccinate, an online portal that provides free information for those looking to research vaccines. Butler said that despite her career and training in the medical field, there was a time when she was skeptical about vaccines.
“Even though I was college educated, I fell victim to disinformation,” she recalled.
Butler was pregnant with one of her four children during the 2009 flu epidemic, which brought about vaccine mandates for New York State workers.
At the time, the mandate didn’t sit well with Butler, who sought out information from websites that “looked credible.” The information she found chronicled the laundry list of negative effects that skeptics say is caused by vaccines. Butler credits her clinical nursing coordinator with bringing her out of that mindset. “She was patient with me and provided accurate information,” Butler said, adding that anyone can post harmful information online and not be held accountable.
In the end, Butler got the H1N1 vaccine. One of her friends, though, didn’t because of a shortage. Butler said that due to the pandemic, her friend lost one of the twins she was pregnant with at the time.
Not everyone shares Butler’s views, though. Bayport resident Rita Palma began her fight against vaccines in 2006, when she applied for a religious waiver to vaccinate her children. Palma said she originally opposed vaccines on religious grounds, but has now come to oppose them for medical reasons as well, believing the vaccines cause a wide range of illnesses. She states that the U.S. has child mortality rates that rival some undeveloped countries. She believes vaccines play a part in that statistic. According to a study published last year in the journal Health Affairs, the United States has the worst child mortality rate compared with those of 19 other wealthy nations.
Nine of the top 10 countries are European, with Sweden coming in at No. 1. Palma specifically mentioned Sweden and other Nordic countries when commenting on how poor the U.S. ranks in child mortality. A common link between the countries that rank better than the U.S., in terms of child mortality, is that they have more socialized forms of health care.
Both Butler and Palma acknowledge that many religious institutions, including the Catholic Church, aren’t necessarily opposed to vaccines. However, Palma takes the stance that people adhere to faiths and not institutions. “Different people have different religious experiences,” she said.
Skeptics often say that vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective, to which Butler responds, “Nothing is 100 percent effective.” She stressed that the flu shot, while not 100 percent effective, still decreases the severity and length of the illness.
Butler said skepticism, in regards to vaccines, comes from a variety of sources, but is largely a result of someone presenting basic medical knowledge, but lacking the “full truth.” She recalled the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is considered to be a phenomenon where people with little knowledge or skill think they know more or have more skill than they do. According to Urban Dictionary, this occurs while simultaneously overlooking or underestimating the knowledge and skills of those involved in the task at hand.
Skeptics also link vaccines with a perceived increase in autism rates. In 2000, just one in 150 children had autism, according to the CDC. In 2014, about one in 59 children had autism. Butler, along with countless other medical professionals, respond to numbers like these by saying the medical field is getting better at identifying autism at a younger age. Butler also referred to the increase in adults being diagnosed with autism.
Additional reports point out that white children, in the United States, are diagnosed with autism at higher rates than minorities because they are more likely to have access to better health care.