With measles cases spiking to levels not seen in nearly 30 years, convincing people to get vaccinations for the disease and other harmful infections is a constant struggle, Dr. Michael Brady said.
When speaking to Columbus Public Health officials Sept. 17, Brady said age-old skepticism of the government and a false sense of safety have put some parents in the "vaccine refusal" camp.
Others think they know what's right for their child, even when contradicted by strong scientific grounds, said Brady, a retired infectious-disease specialist at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
"Most of the people kind of feel they're going to be free riders," he said. " 'All of the other children are going to be immunized and I won't have to put my child through that,' whatever 'that' is."
The Ohio Department of Health recommends numerous vaccinations for children from 6 years old and younger.
For example, a key vaccination for young children is one for measles, mumps and rubella -- often referred to as MMR. Many day cares and school districts require vaccinations, but families may seek exemptions.
As of August 2019, there were 1,241 reported cases of measles from 31 states, Ohio among them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is the highest number of reported cases of the disease since 1992, according to the center's website.
"And, really, the CDC does everything it can to show vaccines are safe, first, and effective, second," Brady said.
Some of the vaccine apprehension can be traced to British physician Andrew Wakefield, who linked MMR with autism in 1998 in articles published in the Lancet, an English medical journal.
In 2010, the medical journal retracted all of those articles on grounds of insufficient evidence. Wakefield eventually lost his license to practice medicine.
Brady said as more children were diagnosed with autism, a corresponding percentage of children diagnosed with an intellectual disability fell.
Still, the perceptions of vaccines being unsafe are rigidly held by some people, Brady said.
How to combat those falsehoods has become an even greater debate in the U.S., Brady said.
Some pediatricians have told patients they'd refuse to see them if their children weren't properly vaccinated, he said.
That comes with its own pitfalls because some patients will seek more opportunistic physicians who won't make vaccinations a priority, Brady said. Also, many doctors don't want to lose patients, he said. To be clear, there are some potential side effects with vaccines, such as infections at the injection site, Brady said.
They are rare and comparatively mild compared to contracting a disease -- for example, diphtheria, which can be deadly, he said.
Franklin County Public Health is among many health agencies that encourage immunizations, said Alex Jones, assistant health commission for the county.
"Vaccination is not only safe and effective -- it is important to protect you and your family and it also protects those most vulnerable in the community who are unable to be vaccinated," Jones said.
The Ohio legislature could make vaccinations mandatory, but that isn't likely, as too many Ohioans view vaccinations an infringement on personal liberties, he said.
"It's going to take some kind of outbreak to make them change their minds," he said. "Otherwise, I don't see that happening."