Throughout the past few years, there has been a growing anti-vaccination movement in North America. Vaccinations provide advantages and when they are said to harm, those claims are usually based on paranoia or false grounds.
If everything on Facebook is true, vaccines seem responsible for everything from chronic fatigue and brain damage to autism spectrum disorder. The whole system is also a scam set up by pharmaceutical manufacturers hungry for a quick profit.
Surely with such bold accusations, heartbreaking tales and extensive press coverage, there must be plenty of evidence to back these claims up. In fact, it’s quite impossible to find any credible scientific studies that support these theories.
Perhaps the most common and well-publicized fear regarding the vaccination is that it causes autism in children. In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield published an article in the Lancet, a United Kingdom-based journal of medicine, where he proposed that the MMR — measles, mumps and rubella — vaccine put children at a higher risk of developing autism. These findings prompted a social movement against the immunization of children for this and other vaccines.
In 2010, it was discovered that some of the children that Wakefield had examined had been referred to him by a lawyer who is currently embroiled in a class action lawsuit against the manufactuers of the vaccine. The Lancet retracted the 1998 article, deemed it fraudulent and Wakefield was stripped of his medical licence in the U.K.
Members of the anti-vaccination movement are also concerned by the ingredients in modern vaccines, — particularly thiomersal, a mercury-based preservative — citing it as a potential cause of autism. Once again, a 2003 Danish study involving over half a million children proved otherwise; they found thiomersal has no effect on autism rate.
The only reason the Danish study could find a possible correlation properly is because they removed thiomersal from vaccines in 1992 and the incidence of autism actually increased. Nonetheless, those against vaccination took the discontinuation of thiomersal-containing vaccines by many governments as a sign that it actually did cause autism, despite being a purely precautionary measure.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common side-effects from vaccines are bruising, tenderness and itching around the injection site on the body. Other cases can produce headache, nausea and low-grade fever. While severe allergic reaction is possible, it is very rare — often less than one in 100,000 cases.
For some vaccines, such as DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis), cases of long-term seizures, coma and brain damage have been reported. However, these occur in less than one in a million cases and it is difficult to determine whether there is any causality.
A common argument against some vaccines is that the diseases they prevent have been eradicated from the area in question. If polio has been eradicated from the western hemisphere, why should we still vaccinate against it?
Unfortunately, this argument is remarkably short-sighted and could potentially cause harm to future generations. Though the last case of polio in developed countries was reported in 1991, people in non-industrialized countries are still affected by the disease. If we were to suddenly stop vaccinating children against polio, within a few generations the entire population would be at risk of contracting it again. Though these diseases are often written off because of a lack of direct experience, they are still dangerous, as one in 100 cases of polio results in paralysis.
Although parents do have the right to decide whether their children will be vaccinated, they must recognize that their decision will impact others. While parents of children with compromised immune systems may do their best to ensure the safety of their kids through vaccination, this is not always enough.
People with compromised immune systems rely in part on the immunization of the general population. Despite a parent’s best efforts, if an immunized child with a compromised immune system is exposed to a disease, there is still a possibility that they will contract it. Rather than opening up the population to the return of potentially devastating diseases such as polio and whooping cough, parents should make an informed, responsible choice to vaccinate their children.