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I am a firm believer in the ideal of individual freedoms. Freedom of speech, press, and religion are the cornerstones of what it means to be an American. Yet, as with any freedom, it is implicit those freedoms be exercised with responsibility. I also respect individual’s rights to question the status quo, especially in the scientific community. Nevertheless, questioning should entertain at least a shred of valid substantive evidence, responsibility in research, or logical thought. So, please view the following comments in that light.
Over the last twenty years I have watched the anti-vaccine groups grow in intensity and purpose. I have watched conspiracy theory videos, read multiple antivaccine articles, viewed seemingly endless links to self-proclaimed vaccine experts, and have listened to hundreds of frightened parents quote a litany of erroneous data from research that has never actually been done or poorly done. I originally thought that these groups would tire of spreading their fear inspiring doctrine, yet they seem to be capturing more and more media and social media time with their horrifying stories of conspiracy and fear.
As a result, more and more people are either not vaccinating their children or trying “alternative” schedules, leaving their children at a higher risk of serious disease. Truly the vaccination rates all over the country are decreasing. All of this, out of a fear that vaccines will cause autism, overwhelm their immune system, or cause them to become infertile are among the few myths about our vaccines that prove to scare the uniformed.
Vaccinations have been perceived as “unnatural” yet they are actually the most “natural” forms of prevention of illness. In vaccinating, small amounts of proteins from the would-be offending agent along with an immune stimulator are injected into the muscle. This triggers the immune system to produce antibodies which protect against the actual bacteria or viruses that would cause inexplicable harm if caught from the environment. The alternative is injecting large quantities of antibiotics and antivirals (chemicals) into the bloodstream to hopefully thwart the illness and save a life after the disease has taken its toll.
So, I will cover a few myths about vaccines:
Myth #1: Vaccines cause autism. While the exact cause of Autism is unknown, vast amounts of scientific research and data tells us that there is a strong genetic predisposition that causes the disorder. While there may be some suggestion that factors in the environment may contribute to the unmasking of the disorder, there is no one cause identified. What we do know with absolute certainty is that vaccinations DO NOT cause autism. Multiple well-done studies in past and recent years from around the world, involving over 750,000 children have proven this. Actually, a recent study of over 600,000 children in Denmark, showed that the children who received vaccinations had a reduced incidence of autism.
Myth #2: Vaccines contain Thimerosal and other harmful chemicals. Actually, all vaccines with the exception of certain influenza vaccinations, have not contained thimerosal in the United States for over 10 years. Thimerosal is an ethyl mercury preservative that keeps multi dose vials sterile and over 95% of thimerosal is eliminated from the body within hours of injection. Thimerosal has never been implicated in any adverse medical conditions. It was discontinued largely due to public fear and misconception. Thimerosal was the chemical that people ignorantly blamed the MMR vaccine for causing autism. Factually, the MMR vaccine has never contained thimerosal. Other chemicals that may be found in vaccines are from the manufacturing process and are in quantities less than if one poured a teaspoon of salt in a swimming pool (parts per billion). Chemicals that may be found in vaccines are in far less concentrations than can be found in many foods like fish (mercury and lead), rice (arsenic), and apple juice (cyanide).
Myth#3: Vaccines overwhelm the immune system. Antigens are proteins that the immune system recognize and process for protection through antibody production. Vaccines take advantage of these antigens and couple them with other proteins to make them more effective. Furthermore, in recent years, our technology has made these processes more effective. As a result, we need fewer antigens in order to accomplish the same result. It has been postulated there are more antigens in the old small pox vaccine than the entire first year vaccines. Nevertheless, our immune system is designed to recognize and destroy would be offenders. On a daily basis our immune system battles against countless invaders with their antigen proteins fulfilling its purpose. No study has ever shown that that small numbers of antigens that are introduced into the body have ever depressed or overwhelmed the immune system.
Myth#4: Aborted fetuses are used in the manufacturing of vaccinations. The fact is in the early 1960’s the WI-38 fibroblast cell line was isolated from the lung tissue of 2 therapeutically aborted fetuses and have been used to safely create vaccines against measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, polio, and hepatitis A. Unfortunately, in the 1960’s the use of fetal tissue was relatively unregulated, and the WI-38 cell line was used for scientific research. However, it has since been largely the only cell line used in vaccine development. On the other hand, there are only a handful of vaccines that are currently produced from an over 40-year-old cell line. While many of us may disagree with the ethics of abortion, we cannot argue with the overwhelming numbers of lives that have been saved. “Billions of people are alive today who would otherwise have either died in childhood or who would have been crippled or disabled by vaccine preventable diseases. The World Health Organization estimates that all immunizations now available avert about 2.5 million deaths among children every year, but many more lives could still be saved if vaccines were universally available. In fact, it is ironic that the rubella vaccine (which is produced in theWI-38 cell strain that originated from an aborted human fetus) is vigorously opposed by anti-choice advocates, even though this vaccine prevented over 633,000 miscarriages in the U.S. alone, and countless more across the globe, and it has prevented tens of millions of clinical health issues in children (e.g., encephalitis, autism, deafness, diabetes, etc.) linked to congenital rubella syndrome.” Since the introduction of the rubella vaccine alone <10 cases per year of rubella have been reported and in 2015 rubella has been nearly eliminated in the United States. No other aborted fetuses have been used in the current production of vaccines.
Myth#5: My child is protected because others are vaccinated…these diseases are not around any longer. The fact is that the only vaccine preventable disease that is completely been eliminated worldwide is Smallpox. Completely eliminated due to a worldwide vaccination program. It was responsible for millions of deaths for centuries…eliminated by vaccination. While many other of the major vaccine preventable diseases are virtually eliminated in the United States, they are not worldwide. We saw just how vulnerable we still are with recent outbreaks of measles in California and New York among unvaccinated populations exposed to travelers from Europe. Nearly 1500 cases of measles were reported in New York, and 21cases were reported in Texas this last year. Furthermore, Diseases like pertussis responsible for severe respiratory illness are on the rise again primarily due to the decreased vaccination rates in vulnerable ages. Ultimately, we are not out of the woods yet in protecting our children. Finally, it is irresponsible to put the health of your child in the hands of someone else.
Honestly, nothing in this life is without risk. Drinking water, walking across the street, and driving a car all carry significant risks. It is up to the parent to make sound decisions about the care of their own children based on facts and a good relationship with their own doctor. Yet the facts are that vaccines have been studied time and time again with hundreds of thousands of children and have proven to be safe, effective, and protective against a host of horrible and devastating illnesses. Think about it…the chances of dying in a car accident is 1 in 520 while the chances of death from a severe vaccine side effect is less than 1 in 1 million.
References: AIMS Public Health, 4 (2): 127-138, CDC website.
5 Myths about Vaccines, By Ike Pauli Jr. M.D.