The Anti-Vaccination Epidemic


Alice Bolandhemat, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Since the early 1800s, when English physician Edward Jenner discovered that vaccinations could potentially protect an infant from smallpox, vaccinations have remained relatively routine among school-aged children. However, immediately after releasing his discoveries, Jenner was met with countless critics who deemed his scientific findings unjust. Now, nearly two centuries later, these skeptics seem to have resurfaced, known to many as “anti-vaxxers.”

The central belief among anti-vaxxers (that is, those whose refusal does not stem from religious or medical reasons) surrounds a supposed link between immunization and autism. “The autism-vaccine myth started in 1998 when a notable medical journal published a paper that linked the MMR vaccine to autism. The journal eventually retracted the study after it was found to be completely inaccurate and fraudulent, and the author was stripped of his medical license, however the damage was done by then, and unbelievably, this myth still exists today,” said Middle and Upper School Nurse Ms. Yacu. 

But those who wish to combat vaccination requirements cannot do so easily. In 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Jacobson v. Massachusetts, which granted U.S. states the right to mandate vaccinations and punish those who refused to comply. Illinois’ state immunization laws are reflective of many other U.S. states, including the clause pertaining to exemption, which grants exceptions to those whose religious beliefs or medical conditions do not support the use of vaccinations. So where does Latin fall into the mix?

Middle and Upper School Nurse Yacu explained that “Latin follows the Illinois state law that requires proof of certain immunizations for students enrolled in school. The requirements differ for each grade level.” What exactly are those requirements? There’s a whole host of them, ranging from mumps to meningitis.

As the number of anti-vaxxers increases, so does the risk of reintroducing once-eradicated diseases such as rubeola (more commonly referred to as measles), which the World Health Organization now considers as one of the top ten threats to global health. Last week, hundreds of students at the University of California Los Angeles and California State University Los Angeles were quarantined in fear of contaminating members of the community with the measles virus.

The likelihood of an outbreak of this severity occurring at Latin, while slim, is not zero. According to nurse Yacu, at Latin, “both religious and medical exemptions are granted with appropriate documentation. We keep ‘susceptibility lists’ of students who are not protected against certain diseases, in the event that there is an outbreak.”

Much of the controversy surrounding the anti-vaccination movement is the question of a child’s autonomy, as a minor’s legal guardian can technically forbid their child from receiving immunizations. “Not vaccinating your children is betraying them. It’s not giving them a fair chance at a future,” said sophomore Sebastian Valenzuela. Many students across the country share the same belief as Sebastian; some have even gone as far as fulfilling their vaccination requirements without their guardian’s knowledge.

Vaccines go far beyond one individual. One body can be a vector for a disease for months, even years and can spread that disease to countless other people during that time. While it’s important to preserve the autonomy we have over our bodies, isn’t it imperative to protect others’ rights to health as well?