In the wake of the MMR-autism scandal, we have been plagued with parents around the world who suddenly think that vaccinating their children is the wrong move. Several propaganda websites, often created by individuals with absolutely no medical training, have sprung up with detailed lists of reasons why vaccination is dangerous, unnecessary, ineffective, or conspiracies by drug companies to get your money. These are, of course, blatantly false, but they are also unbelievably dangerous. These myths about vaccination aren’t just frustrating for health care providers, but they are actually leading to outbreaks of diseases that were once thought to be near eradication.
Now- I fully support parents who want to get all of the information they can about vaccines and the general health of their children. I think this is very important. But there is a difference between getting your information from reputable sources such as the CDC, WHO, or peer reviewed research, and getting it from a blog written by a stay at home mom with no medical training. If parents are willing to take the time to search google for the wingnut who says their child got autism from a vaccine, why are they seemingly unable to ALSO read the plethora of information available, from TRAINED professionals, that disproves this association?
I’m going to run down a list of common objections people have to vaccines, and my explanation of why those objections are unfounded.
1) Vaccines are full of dangerous chemicals!
Vaccines do contain chemicals. Anti-vax proponents will give you a hefty list of them- thimerosal, formaldehyde, aluminum, phenol, anti-freeze, etc etc etc. In some cases, trace amounts of these chemicals do exist in vaccines; in other cases it’s downright untrue. The most hotly contested of these is undoubtedly thimerosal, which is a type of mercury. The confusion arises, however, in what type of mercury we’re speaking of. Most vaccines no longer contain any thimerosal at all due to the uproar, but those that do (the flu vaccine, for example) contain ethyl mercury, which is far different from the typical methyl mercury we are so concerned about in our environment. Where methyl mercury can accumulate in your body and become toxic, ethyl mercury does not accumulate in this way. This misunderstanding by the public is what has amplified the myth that dangerous, toxic chemicals are thrown haphazardly into vaccines- which is simply untrue. Each chemical component in any vaccine serves an important purpose- to boost the immune response, help preserve the vaccine, prevent growth of viruses or bacteria, and so on. And furthermore, the AMOUNT of these chemicals in any vaccine is far below what would be considered toxic, even for an infant. The amount of mercury found in any vaccine is far lower than you would ingest by eating a can of tuna.
2) Immune systems of children are fragile- they can’t handle all of these vaccines! It’s too much!
People who spout this tripe clearly have no understanding of vaccines or the human immune system. The immune system of a child is undoubtedly not as strong as that of an adult, which is precisely why they are at higher risk of becoming infected in the first place, punctuating the need to protect them from these infections. Those who claim it’s “too much” for a child’s immune system to handle should consider that children come into contact with thousands of antigens every day, which are handled by their immune systems just fine. In comparison, their ENTIRE vaccination schedule contains roughly 150 antigens. Time and time again, the number of vaccines given to children, even in a relatively short period of time, has been shown to be safe.
3) Vaccines don’t work- our improved hygiene would have eliminated these infections anyway!
Hygiene is an extremely important component of preventing infectious disease- I won’t downplay that for a second. But to suggest that this means vaccines are useless completely discounts the wealth of information that shows that they DO have a widespread impact. The idea that polio, smallpox, diphtheria, measles, or any other infection would be kept to the low levels they are now without vaccination is nonsensical and completely baseless. The resurgence in measles outbreaks in communities who have largely decided not to vaccinate their children is clear enough- and there are several more examples for those who choose not to remain blissfully ignorant of it.
4) Pharmaceutical companies are crooks that sell us untested vaccines just to make money
Of course pharmaceutical companies want to make money. What company doesn’t? But the myth that they can simply pump out any vaccine or drug they want, untested and unproven, is absolute nonsense. There are strict regulations, guidelines and safety trials that must be followed before any drug or vaccine can be licensed for use in the general population. Any of these drugs/vaccines will have risks, side effects and unwanted “adverse events”- that’s simply the reality of any medical intervention. The goal of the medical community and pharma companies is to ensure these interventions are as safe as they possibly can be while still providing the best possible effect to overall human health. Clinical trials are always conducted to evaluate the safety and efficacy of vaccines before they are rolled out, and all adverse events are scrupulously documented in order to make an informed decision on if the risks outweigh the benefits. This continues on even after the vaccine has been rolled out to the public, as an extra precaution to ensure any unsafe reactions that may have been missed in the original safety trials are eventually caught. If this DOES happen, the vaccine can be recalled, evaluated, and improved. This is how science works.
5) Any unvaccinated children I know are FAR healthier than the vaccinated ones!
This is anecdotal evidence, which, when compared to large-scale safety and efficacy trials, holds precisely 0 weight. I know many people who eat chocolate and then go on to be diagnosed with cancer. Does this mean chocolate causes cancer? Of course not. Correlation does NOT equal causation, and that kind of anecdotal evidence is, quite simply, completely useless and unfounded in the field of medicine. Another example is the unsubstantiated conclusion that vaccination of babies in the US contributes to the high infant mortality rates seen there when compared to other countries. This completely fails to consider the many other factors related to higher infant mortality rates in the US- such as the lack of pre-natal and post-natal care many women receive. Unlike vaccination, which has shown no direct link to increased infant mortality rates, pre and post-natal care certainly has.
6) I don’t think my child is at risk, so I’m not going to vaccinate.
This is an incredibly selfish, and frankly, downright idiotic assertion. I doubt any of the parents of the children in Wales who contracted measles thought their children were at risk either. No one thinks THEIR child is at risk until they become infected. The reason vaccines are effective at preventing infections in a community is because the majority of people get them, protecting not only themselves from infection, but the few unvaccinated individuals around them- a phenomenon known as herd immunity. There are some individuals in the community who are not able to get vaccines- those who are immunocompromised from other illnesses such as cancer or AIDS, for example. These individuals rely on OTHERS being protected from those infections in order to be protected themselves through herd immunity. By not vaccinating, you not only put your children at risk, but you put others at risk as well.
When considering vaccines, as with any medical intervention, we need to consider the risks and benefits. To look only at the risks without giving due consideration to the overwhelming benefits is unbelievably short sighted. Though there are risks, it is the consensus of medical professionals that these risks are far overshadowed by the benefits we see- a huge reduction in the morbidity and mortality caused by infectious diseases.
Here’s the bottom line. Vaccines work. We have come to this conclusion time, and time, and time again. They are as safe as we can possibly make them and we continue to make them safer as time goes on. Not vaccinating your children not only puts them at risk of serious infections, but puts other individuals in your community at risk as well. Stop reading shitty propaganda from Jenny McCarthy et al, and vaccinate your damn kids.