In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control reported 86 cases of measles across the country. The following year, there were 120. Between January 1st and December 29th of 2018, that number had more than tripled, to 372. The count for 2018 so far is 228 – and we’re not even three months into the year.

Despite this public health crisis in the making, 20 state legislatures across the country have introduced bills that will expand non-medical exemptions for vaccinations. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this is the first time in more than sixteen years that any state has even considered such legislation.

The current fear of vaccination flies in the face of hard scientific data demonstrating that vaccines are safe. According to the World Health Organization, vaccines are among the “most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease,” saving as many as 3 million lives every year.

Why is this happening?

Aside from those who object to vaccination on religious ground, there has been growing distrust of Big Pharma as well as suspicion of Big Government that has been on the rise since Reagan. In some ways, this is understandable. For too long, federal lawmakers have been in bed with the pharmaceutical industry, which has produced an appalling number of harmful, poorly tested medications over the past several years. However, virtually all the vaccines being manufactured today have long records of being safe and effective. So, why are “anti-vaxers” gaining so much influence and power now?

One reason is a persistent rumor, promulgated by the anti-vaxer community as well as alarmist media outlets, that vaccines – specifically, the MMR vaccine – are somehow responsible for the rise in cases of autism. In fact, it is quite the opposite. According to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the autism rate has risen dramatically since children began receiving smaller doses of MMR vaccine starting in the late 1990s. This does not necessarily mean there is a correlation. Research going back a decade suggests that the rise in autism has more to do with GMO crops and the use of the herbicide glyphosate.

The belief that vaccines somehow cause autism goes back to a study published in The Lancet in 1998. It turned out that the author of that study, Andrew Wakefield, had been paid by a law firm that was involved in litigation against Merck, the manufacturer of the MMR vaccine. Several years later, an investigation by the British General Medical Council found that Wakefield had falsified data on the children he had used as subjects. As a result, the study was retracted. Wakefield’s license to practice medicine was revoked in 2010. No other study has ever found any links between autism and the MMR vaccine.

Unfortunately, the damage was done. Because of “sensational publicity,” immunization rates in the U.K. fell by over 10 percent – and doubts continue among parents around the world. Today, well-meaning parents are preventing their children from being vaccinated, making decisions based on lies and pseudoscience – and those children are paying the price. Furthermore, politicians, more interested in being re-elected than serving the public, are enabling this behavior all over the country.

At the same time, anti-vaccine groups across the U.S. are growing in power and influence. Anti-vaxer organizations that include the National Vaccine Information Center, Focus for Health and the Dwoskin Family Foundation have literally been writing legislation and lobbying state lawmakers to promote their agenda.

The result is a growing number of deaths from illnesses that might have been prevented.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.