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Faye Flam

Measles Outbreak Should Change the Vaccines Conversation

Some anti-vaxxer parents are understandably wary of the pharmaceutical industry. That same cautious mindset should lead them to vaccinate.

There are worse things than an injection.

There are worse things than an injection.

Photographer: George Frey/Getty Images

To understand why some parents have chosen not to protect their kids from measles, consider why parents shun another well-tested vaccine, which would protect children from a number of devastating forms of cancer. While more than 700 people have been infected by this latest measles outbreak, thousands of young people are unnecessarily being infected with cancer-associated strains of HPV, or human papillomavirus. These will slowly, quietly, cause cancer in some of them years later.

“The anti-vaxxers really hate the HPV vaccine,” said Stewart Lyman, a cancer researcher who wrote a provocative opinion piece in the medical website STAT, connecting opposition against vaccines to an often-deserved public distrust of the pharmaceutical industry. He included a long list of breaches of trust — from high drug prices to bungled clinical trails to lies about the alleged safety of opioids.