Science has provided ample evidence that childhood vaccines are safe and effective, and public health authorities maintain that vaccines are as important as seat belts in protecting our children. Even President Obama has urged parents to have their kids vaccinated.
So how can it be that many parents opt against having their children vaccinated--even in the face of the measles outbreak that has sickened more than 102 people in 14 states?
It's complicated, of course. Trust in government--or the lack thereof--has been identified as a key factor. But many parents become anti-vaxxers as a result of plain-old misinformation.
Here are six misguided anti-vaccination arguments--and the truth about each.
Bad argument #1: There's no proof that vaccines don't cause autism. It's hard to prove a negative. But the American Academy of Pediatrics has released a list of more than 40 studies showing no link whatsoever between vaccines and autism.
Bad argument #2: One study from England did show a link between vaccines and autism. Yes, a study published in The Lancet in 1998 did find such a link. But the study was retracted, and the physician-researcher who led it, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, was shown to have falsified the data and was stripped of his medical license.
Bad argument #3: There are lots of anecdotes about children developing autism after being vaccinated. But anecdotes aren't proof, and there's no reason to believe that vaccines caused the children to become autistic. As scientists put it succinctly, correlation simply doesn't imply causation, despite the assumption that many parents make.
To point out how misguided this assumption is, Redditor Jasonp55 posted research showing that organic food sales and autism diagnoses increased at the same rate and time. He pointed out that organic food is no more to blame for rising rates of autism than vaccinations are, despite the correlation.
Bad argument #4: It's nobody's business whether my children get vaccinated. Actually, parents who fail to vaccinate their kids may be jeopardizing the health of other children who are unable to get the vaccine because they are too young or for other reasons. When the number of unvaccinated children rises above a certain threshold, so-called "herd immunity" is compromised--and preventable diseases get a toehold in the community.
Bad argument #5: Vaccines can "overload" a child's immune system. That's simply not true. From the moment babies are born, they're exposed to all sorts of illness-causing viruses. So most doctors -- and even the CDC and the Institute of Medicine -- agree that a child's immune system can handle the immune-stimulating antigens in multiple vaccines. In fact, as San Francisco-based pediatrician Dr. Laurel Schultz wrote in a recent article, children are exposed to more antigens in the environment every day than to those in all of their vaccinations combined.
Bad argument #6: "Natural" immunity is better than the immunity that comes from vaccination. So-called "natural" immunity results from the body contracting and successfully battling an infectious illness--and research shows that the immune response of people who have been vaccinated against various diseases is just as good as that of people whose immunity comes from an infection. But of course, vaccine-acquired immunity is preferable because it comes without a potentially dangerous infection.
Seth Mnookin, HuffPost blogger and author of "The Panic Virus," contributed to this article.