It’s a busy afternoon at Elizabeth Coles’ house as she prepares spaghetti for her daughters, Keegan and Michelle. The girls are getting hungry and ask for cheese sticks. However, they are reminded by their mother that their family does not buy processed food anymore because it’s full of chemicals.
“Remember that vaccine you got last year, Keegan? It hurt right?” Coles said. “That’s what processed foods and chemicals do to our bodies; they are bad for you.”
Vaccination is a hot topic in the United States. While most doctors agree that all children should be vaccinated, factors such as effectiveness and possible side effects raise a concern among certain households in Utah. Nevertheless, these views are changing due to a recent measles outbreak that started in Disneyland and spread throughout various states, including Utah.
Utah ranks the fifth healthiest state in the nation, according to United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings. Yet, the state’s numbers for immunization are still sub-optimal, as the state ranks ninth in children immunization and forty-fourth in adolescent immunization.
Coles, from Santaquin, Utah, believes that statistics are fine where they are.
“I am just a concerned parent who believes that we should be able to question everything, especially when it comes to our children,” Coles said. “My husband and I had long conversations about it, and I don’t think that it is ok to flood a newborn’s body with unknown chemicals.”
Coles, whose family prides in home schooling its children as well as raising its own organic food, said she believes that the push for vaccination at an early age seems dubious.
“Without trying to sound like a conspiracy nut, I can tell you that I’ve done the research, and here is my prime example,” she said. “Take HEP vaccinations for newborns. This strain of hepatitis can only be transmitted through bodily fluids. No one in my family has hepatitis, and it seems ridiculous to me to assume that my newborn is going to be coming into contact with other people’s fluids. So why is the government funding scientists to make a huge deal about it? What’s the rush? It seems suspicious to me.”
Despite questioners such as Coles, recent numbers show that the amount of children receiving vaccines has been steadily increasing throughout the state. In addition, a good number of households are shifting their views after events involving the spread of the measles virus at Disneyland.
The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan polled a group of parents in May to see how their views on vaccinations changed between 2014 and 2015.
“The measles virus resurfaced last year as the result of unvaccinated children visiting the Disneyland theme park in California,” C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital’s media relations manager Beata Mostafavi said. “While this was an unfortunate event, one of the positive outcomes from this incident was that at least one third of the parents surveyed, changed their negative or sometimes indifferent view towards immunization.”
As measles spread from California into the state of Utah, residents started to become more interested in vaccines, as shown by Google Trends.
Doctor and pediatrician Noah Christensen from Alpine, Utah also attributes the rank improvement to this event.
“I remember being shocked by the news when I read the title ’40 people infected with measles at Disneyland,'” Christensen said. “I immediately asked myself, how could we, a nation that prides itself on being the best at everything, allow a disease like this not only to resurface, but to also spread around the country?”
Christensen affirms that leaving the issue of immunization unchecked in a family friendly place such as Utah can create a problem for the state. “Censuses show that Utah has the highest number of birth rates, as well as the largest family sizes in the nation. This is good news to me as a grandpa,” Christensen said. “However, as a doctor, I realize that the unexceptional rate of immunization in the state can become a large issue if left unchecked.”
Christensen said he supports vaccinations and feels that children are ultimately the victims.
“The government spends billions trying to raise awareness, precisely to avoid these outbreaks,” Christensen said, “But sadly, it seems like some folks need to have their children experience the illness first hand in order to appreciate the blessings that modern day medicine brings to the table.”
Recent University of Utah nursing graduate Aracely Hicken said it is not uncommon to have people discredit vaccines because they have heard about scientific studies that link vaccines with mental conditions.
“I remember reading about Andrew Wakefield, the man (who) had his medical license taken away from him because of a fraudulent study about the link between vaccines and autism.” Hicken said. “His research has been proven faulty many times, and yet, the medical community is still taking a lot of flak from it.”
Hicken talked about how people rationalize their way out of immunizing their children by using what she sees as flawed logic.
“I am no longer surprised when I hear people use circular reasoning to get out of immunizing their children” Hicken said. “For instance, parents are turning towards essential oils as a way treating disease, instead of giving them a whooping cough shot. The way I see it, if alternative medicine worked for everybody, it would just be called medicine.”
However, Coles said she believes we should be allowed to live in a world where anything, even science, can be open for discussion.
“I am not anti-science. I am just a concerned mother that believes that we should not be forced to take the words of a scientist as the final say on children’s immunization,” she said. “These people aren’t prophets, and they always contradict each other, and yet they preach this infallible vaccine gospel that we just have to accept without being able to question.”