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The uptick in anti-vaxxers could mean devastating consequences for public health

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Even a small decrease in the number of families who get their children vaccinated could mean drastic, sweeping consequences for public health and the economy, according to a recent study.

Researchers at Stanford University and Baylor College of Medicine found that even a 5 percent drop in measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccinations would result in a tripling of cases of the diseases in children ages 2 to 11, and an estimated $2.1 million dollars in government costs to address any hypothetical outbreaks.

With the anti-vaccine movement gaining steam across the United States, some doctors are considering pre-emptive actions to dissuade parents from making misinformed choices about their children's vaccinations.

In Texas, some pediatricians are debating whether to refuse patients who are not vaccinated. Last year over 50,000 students in Texas opted out of at least one vaccine, up from 44,000 children the year before.

Vaccinations at a school in Texas

In Minnesota earlier this year, anti-vaccine activists spread so much fear among parents in one predominately Somali American community that many kids abstained from vaccinations, resulting in the state's worst measles outbreak in decades.

Though the instances of measles cases fluctuate every year, outbreaks consistently happen only when the virus reaches areas where people are not vaccinated.

In the same vein, a Harvard study found that a substantial jump in cases of whooping cough across the US was partly the result of an increase in children who were not vaccinated.

Vaccinations
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

The misinformation about vaccines relies on a widely debunked theory that thimerosal, a preservative ingredient in some vaccines, is linked to autism in children.

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However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and other scientific communities with research to back their claims are unanimous: there is no connection between vaccines and autism, and no link between thimerosal and autism.

The idea of an autism connection was conceived by British doctor Andrew Wakefield in 1998, whose report on the subject was retracted from the medical journal that initially published it.

Despite the fact that Wakefield's hypothesis has been discredited, thimerosal was removed from all vaccines in 2001 except for some formulations of the influenza vaccine.

Many advocate for a longer timeline for scheduled vaccines, instead of administering them all at once. Doctors say this practice, too, is dangerous.

Even so, parents are seemingly not convinced. A 2014 report by AP found that only 53 percent of those polled believed vaccines were safe and effective.

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