photo courtesy of nola.com
Anti-vaxxers, or individuals against the use of vaccines, have become more popular across the nation, but they are not a group whose numbers have started significantly rising in Louisiana, yet.
However, Louisiana anti-vaxxers did find themselves in the public spotlight last year.
In April 2019, Louisiana Senator John Milkovich took the floor during a State Senate meeting and said, “vaccines cause autism,” a popular argument for many anti-vax parents.
While the idea that vaccines cause autism has been disproven, the belief that vaccines can be harmful is still very much believed. And Louisiana is experiencing a rise in parents choosing not to vaccinate their children for school, according to data from the Louisiana Department of Health.
Based on LDH’s data from the 2017-2018, 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years, the percentage of sixth grade and kindergarten students in public schools who have complete immunization records is decreasing among several parishes.
A complete immunization record in Louisiana requires children to receive vaccinations for Tdap, MMR, VAR, HepB and MenACWY. These vaccines prevent several diseases including tetanus, chickenpox, hepatitis, meningitis, measles and mumps, a disease that was once eradicated but just had a major outbreak on LSU’s campus in February.
For Lafayette Parish, the percentages are notable. Within two years, the number of sixth-graders attending public school with a complete immunization record dropped 10%.
For the 2017-2018 school year, 88% of sixth-grade students attending public school had complete immunization records. For the 2018-2019 school year, this fell to 83%, and for the 2019-2020 school year, 78% of sixth-grade students had complete immunization records.
As the percentage of public-school students with complete immunization records decreases and the number of cases of mumps and other preventable diseases increases, one may wonder why parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children.
Most anti-vax parents say they have done their own research.
One Louisiana mother who has chosen not to vaccinate her children explains the research that she did.
“I’ll be honest, I haven’t done a bunch. Just a little, and what I actually saw in my own babies. And most of my non-vax moms are the same except they’ve researched more than I have. They started vaxxing and stopped because of their gut feelings or what they saw in their babies,” said Jocelyn Piggot, mother of three who is an anti-vaccination advocate.
While many anti-vax individuals consider their research to be significant enough to stop their children from taking vaccines altogether, the medical community disagrees and believes not taking vaccines will only result in increased outbreaks.
“Vaccines are designed to do several things. Among the most important are protecting individuals who are vaccinated against future infections and preventing pathogens from becoming established in populations with a high proportion of vaccinated people,” said Loren Cassin Sackett, Ph.D.
“Ultimately, when the number of vaccinated people decreases, the risk to everyone, those people themselves and the population as a whole, increases. This is really bad for people who are immunocompromised, have chronic health conditions, or are too young to be vaccinated. Babies are really vulnerable,” said Sackett.
Despite research-driven data concerning vaccines and their benefits to populations, anti-vax parents tend to remain with their beliefs.
“I used to be pro-vax all the way. Then, I had kids and vaccinated them and saw my children get sick and change. Vaccines may work and cause zero damage for some and that’s great, but as for my children, they made them sick,” said Piggot.
Piggot represents many moms in the state who, like her, choose not to vaccinate their children. The Louisiana Department of Health explains on their website that parents may request an exemption in writing for medical or religious/philosophical reasons.
While the percentage of children with incomplete immunization records may be slowly rising in some Louisiana parishes, the data shows that most parents in Louisiana still adopt a pro-vaccine mindset.
“I’ve had six children, and all of them were vaccinated. We’ve seen no problems and no sick children,” said Alisha Syon, a Louisiana mother.