The creation of vaccines has to be one of the greatest accomplishments in public health and medicine. In 1786, Edward Jenner introduced the first successful small pox vaccine, which for centuries around the world had a high fatality rate. The successful distribution of the vaccine eventually lead to complete eradication of the disease (Riedel, S. (2005)). This paved the way for the creation of other vaccines for diseases that have killed and disabled millions of people, such as polio, measles, rubella, pertussis just to name a few. Parents are encouraged to vaccinate their children against certain infectious diseases, and are expected to have most of them done before the child enters school. As a child, you probably remember dreading going to the doctor's office to get your shots, you probably took them like a champ. By doing so you protected yourself and other children from experiencing the dangerous complications that come with dealing with certain pathogens (disease causing agents), and helped to stop them from spreading in your community. According to the CDC, rates of immunization have been dropping in the US by 40%, causing certain diseases such as, the measles and mumps to resurface again. Despite the apparent effectiveness immunization has against infectious diseases, many parents have concerns about the safety of certain vaccines that are being administered to their children, hence the drop in vaccination rates. Below one will find a very clear figure on the basis for immunizations.
As previously stated, a major concern parents have are on the subject of the safeness of vaccines. As a parent it is perfectly normal to be concerned about the health of your child, and what is entering their bodies. What needs to be realized though, is that vaccination has been the most effective way to keep populations healthy, mainly by preventing diseases to be spread from people to people. Effective control of vaccine-preventable diseases generally requires extremely high rates of timely vaccination, consequently if there is an increase in skeptics these rates will drop. A lot of the fears people have about vaccinations stem from certain myths expressed by the media and speculation from people who are not educated on the subject matter.
Let's take a look at some of them.
One of the biggest myths is that vaccines are linked to autism. In 1998, british surgeon Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues published a study that suggested that the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine may lead to developmental disorders, such as autism in children. This study was published in a prestigious medical journal, The Lancet. The MMR Vaccine is given to children at 12 months and once more around the age of 5, coincidently the age where signs of autism are expressed. In Wakefield's study, he examined a small sample size of 12 children and claimed that the MMR vaccine caused a strain on the children's immune system, leading to further complications resulting in brain damage (Rao, T. S. S., & Andrade, C.). The study was quickly debunked after finding out that the author falsified his facts, and was after his own financial gain. Many studies thereafter have found that there is no correlation between vaccines and autism.
This is false. When a virus enters the body, the immune system responds by generating antibodies to attempt to fight it off. If the pathogen were to present itself again, the antibodies would prevent it from spreading in the body. In consideration of immune function, vaccines contain a dead or a weakened version of a particular virus, but this dead version prompts ones immune system to develop antibodies against the disease. This is not to say that there are absolutely no risks in receiving vaccines, but the chances of having an adverse reaction is 1 in 100,000 (National Institute of Health, 2008). In some cases, it is possible to develop some symptoms, like a low-grade fever, headache, or a sore at the site of injection however, this is very minor, and is part of the normal immune response to pathogens, even dead ones. Now if you don't vaccinate yourself, for example, measles can cause encephalitis, and polio can cause paralysis (WHO). Without these vaccines we would be facing a lot more injuries and death.
This is another false claim. This concern first began to appear as the recommended childhood immunization schedule expanded to include more vaccines, and as some vaccines were combined into a single shot (MMR and DTP). In fact, the reason why children get vaccinated at such a young age is because they are much more vulnerable to getting sick and dying from diseases. The good thing is that neonates develop the capacity to respond to foreign antigens before they are born. B and T cells, adaptive immune cells, are present by 14 weeks' gestation (Paul A. Offit, January 2002).These cells are constantly being replenished by the body, therefore vaccines cannot weaken a healthy immune system. Experts estimate that it is infants have the theoretical capacity to respond to about 10,000 vaccines at any one time and if the 11 routinely recommended vaccines were administered together, the immune system would need to use only about 0.1% of its capacity to process them (Paul A. Offit, January 2002). So there's nothing to worry about here!
While it is true that most infectious diseases are under control in the United States thanks to “herd immunity”, these diseases still are present in other parts of the world. Diseases, such as Polio are still widespread in other parts of the world and all it takes is for one person to bring back and infect un-protected individuals. If rates of immunization continued to drop, these rare diseases can make their way back and cause dangerous outbreaks. If you have the ability to get vaccinated you should do so because you are not only protecting yourself, you are also protecting those who don't have the ability to do so.
Some childhood vaccines used to contain a mercury containing substance that goes by the name of Thimerosal. According to the World Health Organization, in 1999 this substance was removed from vaccines as a precautionary measure in order to reduce the amount of mercury exposure in infants as possible. Thimerosal contains a form of mercury, ethyl mercury, harmless compared to its counterpart methyl mercury. It was used as a preservative to prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria and fungus in vaccines. Methyl Mercury does have damaging effects when taken in large quantities, such as neurological defects, however studies have not found ethyl mercury to cause any neurological defects. Presently, no childhood vaccines in the US contain Thimerosal except for some variations of the flu vaccines. If this is an issue for you, you can always talk to your Physician about giving you a flu vaccine that does not contain Thimerosal.
Thanks to vaccines, as a society we no longer have to worry about certain infectious diseases plaguing us. Former childhood diseases that were common are now rare. In order to keep this up, it is important for people to continue to get their children vaccinated. The benefits of vaccines have proven to outweigh the rare side effects that many people have concerns about. Further, the risks that come with vaccine preventable diseases, are far greater than the vaccines itself. Vaccines actually prevent illnesses from happening in the first place, so that we can all live healthy productive lives. Hopefully this article cleared up any negative thoughts about immunization.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Vaccine Safety. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/multiple-vaccines-immunity.html
National Institute of Health. (2008, January). Understanding How Vaccines Work. Retrieved from http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/vaccines/documents/undvacc.pdf
Paul A. Offit, J. Q. (January 2002). Addressing Parents' Concerns: Do Multiple Vaccines Overwhelm or Weaken the Infant's Immune System? Pediatrics.
Rao, T. S. S., & Andrade, C. (2011). The MMR vaccine and autism: Sensation, refutation, retraction, and fraud. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 53(2), 95–96. http://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.82529 Website
Riedel, S. (2005). Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination. Proceedings (Baylor University. Medical Center), 18(1), 21–25.
World Health Organization