Fears of a link between vaccinations and autism have fueled reluctance among parents over the last decade to vaccinate their children. Though the link was disproven in January, populations across the U.S. and around the world persist in rejecting vaccines on religious or philosophical grounds. The impact of this movement, argues Harvard professor and risk perception consultant David Ropeik in an LA Times op-ed this week, is becoming all too clear: last year, California saw its biggest whooping cough outbreak in a long while, with 9,000 cases; France has documented 7,000 cases of measles so far this year. Ironically, preventable diseases have been on the rise in wealthy, educated areas, and according to a 2008 study from the state of Michigan, the risk of disease in such “exemption clusters” can be three times higher than the average risk in other areas. It’s clear that disease spreads quickly, especially in high density areas such as schools and hospitals, and those epidemics can be costly to contain and clean up. Should it be more difficult for parents to opt-out of vaccination? And could financial disincentives or stricter regulations increase public safety?
David Ropeik, is an instructor at Harvard University and the author of an op-ed in this week’s Los Angeles Times; his latest book is How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts