Vaccinations have been viewed with suspicion since they were first developed.
This has not been helped by mistakes along the way as science in general and lab work in particular has evolved. The worst incident in the US was in 1955 when the polio vaccination was introduced. Cutter Laboratories mistakenly created a vaccine using live polio virus rather than dead virus. This mistake caused tens of thousands of cases of polio and is thought to be responsible for 10 deaths and more than 200 cases of paralysis.
The History of Vaccination
That is horrendous and inexcusable. However, it pales when looked at against the average yearly death due to polio, which at the time was around 2000 deaths each year. Of course that doesn’t help if your child was one of the people killed or paralyzed by a preventable error.
The Cutter Incident, as it came to be known, was a disaster. But even so the death rate for polio has dropped to zero in the US due to an ambitious and ultimately successful vaccination program. As a society we need to decide if the risk was worth the reward.
Polio has no cure. It leads to paralysis in around 1 in 200 cases and of those 10-20 people will die when their breathing muscles become paralyzed. In 1916 a polio outbreak killed 2,400 people in New York City alone.
The recent fear of vaccinations began in 1998
when a man named Andrew Wakefield (b. 1957) published a paper in The Lancet, a well respected British medical journal. In the article he claimed to find a correlation between a new disease he called autistic enterocolitis, and the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella.)
This article wasn’t the first the world had heard of Wakefield. He had previously done controversial work suggesting a possible link between Crohn’s disease (a disease of the intestinal tract) and the measles vaccination. He was working on this when he was approached by Rosemary Kessick, the parent of an autistic child and head of a group called Allergy induced Autism. She later said in an interview:
“What people fail to realize is that Andrew Wakefield did not go looking for us. We parents went looking for him.”^1
Soon Wakefield had been approached by several parents who thought their children’s bowel and behavioral problems were caused by vaccinations. Using 12 children from this self selecting group Wakefield was able to find the correlation he sought. As he wrote in the study:
“Onset of behavioural symptoms was associated, by the parents, with measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination in eight of the 12 children, with measles infection in one child, and otitis media [a type of ear infection] in another.” ^2
Wakefield’s own interpretation of the study was mild enough.
“We identified associated gastrointestinal disease and developmental regression in a group of previously normal children, which was generally associated in time with possible environmental triggers. ^3
“…generally associated in time with possible environmental triggers.” In other words, symptoms showed up around the same time as the vaccinations. Not particularly surprising considering he chose to work with with children whose parents thought the symptoms showed up around the same time as the vaccinations.
Unfortunately, despite the mild tone of the finding, in an interview following the study Wakefield said that he was convinced that the MMR vaccine caused autism. The press grabbed the headline and people with autistic kids started counting back from when they first noticed the symptoms.
Hopefully, you have noticed a few issues with the study. Wakefield didn’t use a random sample, had no control group, used a tiny study size. The findings were a correlation and did not show causation. But those were the small problems.
A correlation means two things happen together. Causation means one makes the other happen. We light our wood stove in the winter. There is a strong correlation between having a fire and wintertime. However, winter doesn’t cause fires and wood fires don’t cause winter. None-the-less they happen together. I could even say that a wood fire is generally associated in time with possible environmental triggers.
It was later determined that Wakefield was being funded by lawyers who wanted to sue vaccine manufactures. Beyond all that, Wakefield faked the data. When this came out he was stripped of his medical license and the Lancet retracted his study. But the damage was done.
William is one of 10 children taking part in a pilot study … investigating possible links between the measles vaccine with the bowel disorder Crohn’s Disease, and with autism. The study is being organized by Norfolk solicitors Dawbarns, one of two firms awarded a contract … to co-ordinate claims resulting from the MMR vaccine.^4
Today anti-vaccine activists have several fears about vaccines.
I don’t want to discount those fears. Vaccinations do cause harm is some rare cases (not autism.) However, the benefits of vaccination highly outweigh the risks in the majority of cases.
There are several different types of vaccines. Live attenuated vaccines are ones which use a weakened form of the disease for the inoculation. Common diseases which react well to attenuated vaccines are measles, mumps and rubella (MMR combined vaccine,) as well as chickenpox and some of the flu vaccines.
Some diseases are simply too virulent to allow any amount of live culture into the patient. These diseases require inactivated vaccines. In these cases the bacteria or virus is killed using heat or chemicals and the dead disease cells are introduced into the body. These vaccines include polio, rabies and hepatitis A. These vaccines aren’t as strong as the live attenuated, so may require several shots or boosters.
A few other types of vaccines are made which either use only a part of the disease cells or treat the cells to change them chemically, prior to adding to the vaccination. New types if vaccines are also in the works which will act on DNA either directly or indirectly.
Here are some of the common fears and the medical and scientific communities’ response:
1) Vaccinations cause autism.
I have already showed how Wakefield’s study was flawed. Furthermore, attempts to replicate his findings have failed over and over again. There have been no studies that have found that vaccine causes or increases any risk for autism. The timing can be similar in that vaccines are administered to young children and autism can take a while to develop. However, using the same logic you could claim that autism causes some parents to vaccinate their children.
2) The chemicals used in the vaccines either to kill the virus/bacteria or added to prevent spoilage are dangerous.
It is true that high levels of some of the chemicals are indeed dangerous. However, the CDC, NIH and other national health organizations point out that the most dangerous chemicals are no longer used and the levels of those chemicals that remain are below danger levels – in some cases are lower than what occurs naturally in human bodies.
3) Young children’s immune systems are vulnerable to receiving many vaccines at one time.
Fortunately, children (and adults) have large numbers of antibodies in their blood allowing them to face numerous immune challenges daily. It’s not as if the immune system deals with one issue then moves on to the next. Rather different cells deal with different invaders, both the dangerous and the benign.
The immune system doesn’t “run out” of antibodies because the cells are constantly replenishing themselves. Introducing a large number of pathogens means a large number of antibodies are created. That’s a good thing because children are exposed to new “bugs,” daily. Every time you take a child to the grocery store, or day care you are exposing that child to more germs than they will get in any number of carefully prepared vaccinations.
Finally, the vaccines are now safer and easier on the immune system than ever before, so getting a number of vaccinations at one time is even safer than ever. According to the Children’s Hospital of Chicago:
“Studies… indicate that the immune system has the capacity to respond to extremely large numbers of immunologically distinct regions of viruses and bacteria…. one would predict that if 11 vaccines were given to infants at one time, then about 0.1 percent of the immune system would be “used up.” …
However, because B cells and other lymphocytes are constantly replenished, a vaccine never really “uses up” a fraction of the immune system. For example, the immune system has the ability to replenish about 2 billion lymphocytes each day. This replacement activity illustrates the enormous capacity of the immune system to generate lymphocytes as needed. ^5
4) Getting the disease naturally gives a greater immunity than receiving the vaccination.
This is often true. However, that doesn’t make it safe to get the disease. If your child is exposed to someone with the measles it’s possible that they will not get a bad case and will be immune for life. However, measles can be deadly. Is it worth the risk when your child can get the immunity without getting the disease? Also, in a few cases (tetanus for instance) the vaccination actually gives stronger immunity than getting the disease itself.
5) Big Pharma is just after your money.
There is no doubt that money is a big motivating factor in the drug business. However, making a product which consistently causes health problems is a bad business decision. If vaccines were as dangerous as some people claim the companies would quickly go out of business.
6) People also give religious reasons for not wanting to get their children vaccinated.
I can’t speak to those beliefs since they are faith based.
Now for the reasons the medical community gives in favor of vaccination.
1) The risk of the disease is greater than the risk of vaccination.
If the opposite were true there would be no reason to vaccinate anyone. There are vaccination disasters caused by human error, misjudgment or outright dishonesty, such as the Cutter Incident, but even given those accidents the numbers of lives saved is greater than those due to being vaccinated. If you go by the numbers your child is safer getting vaccinated.
2) Vaccination safely prevents disease in the vast majority of cases.
Most children and adults will have little to no response to vaccinations. Some vaccinations cause bruising or soreness at the site of the vaccination. Some people may feel mild fatigue or illness for a day or two after certain vaccinations. Some vaccinations may not be appropriate for people with compromised immune systems. Severe reactions do occur but rarely.
3) “Herd immunity” helps those who are unable to be vaccinated and prevents the spread of disease.
Herd immunity refers to the situation where enough people are vaccinated that even if the disease does occur it won’t spread through the population. If you have an unvaccinated population and your kid catches the flu at school and them comes home and gives it to you and you go to work and give it to your boss who … soon the flu is endemic. However, anyone who is vaccinated is essentially a cut-off point. The flu stops with them. If enough people have been vaccinated the flu remains contained.
4) It is possible to eradicate disease through vaccination.
So far this is only true for smallpox, but that one instance proves it can be done with a concerted effort. In the US and other wealthy countries other diseases have also been either eliminated or cut way back.
The top 10 health dangers for 2019 according to the WHO:
– Air pollution and climate change.
– Noncommunicable diseases (eg diabetes)
– Global influenza pandemic (preparing for the inevitable)
– Fragile and vulnerable settings (eg war zones, poverty)
– Antimicrobial resistance (overuse of antibiotics)
– Ebola and other high-threat pathogens
– Weak primary health care
– Vaccine hesitancy (defined as both refusal and delayed vaccination due to distrust or confusion)
^6 (my emphasis)
Look at the facts as well as the fears to help you make an informed decision.
And don’t forget to chat with your doctor.
Thanks for reading.
^1 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1364081/Parents-left-stunned-as-MMR-doctor-is-forced-out.html article dated 02 Dec 2001. [retrieved 11/20/19.]
^2 The Lancet 1998; 351: 637–41.
^4 Grania Langdon-Down. The Independent Law, p 25. November 27 1996
^5 https://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center/vaccine-safety/immune-system-and-health [retrieved 11/14/2019.]
^6″Ten health issues WHO will tackle this year”. Who International. My emphasis. [Retrieved 11/ 25/19.]
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The History of Vaccination
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