Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Vaccine debate

The vaccine debate seems to be a never ending drama.  Parents are basing their decision not to vaccinate their children on advice from certain organizations and celebrities despite the overwhelming scientific evidence and advice from medical providers.  While I absolutely understand the desire to protect your child and use caution, I am frustrated that the media seems to have done so little to present these concerned parents with the evidence or the alternatives.

When we choose not to vaccinate, we risk not only our child's life, but the lives of those around them.  Some will argue that the diseases have been eradicated or that the diseases are not life threatening and vaccines are therefor unnecessary.  These ideas are untrue, the diseases still exist, they are not "dormant" or dead.  They are out there, living on surfaces, animals and other areas where we may or may not come into contact with them.   We rarely see active infections anymore, but that is because the majority of our population has been vaccinated.

As to the severity of the diseases, the disease may have a low mortality rate, but many have high rates for serious complications that could drastically reduce an individual's quality of life.  A child who has a mild infection of Measles may not show any symptoms at all, that is true... but when they have a mild case, they do not always build immunity, leaving them open for a second infection later which will likely be more serious.  What if a child with a mild infection goes to school (if it is mild enough, the parent may not even suspect they are ill) and plays with a child who has a parent who is receiving Chemotherapy for cancer?  The disease may be passed along to the cancer patient, which may very well kill them.  The elderly, organ transplant recipients, patients with AIDS or any other type of disorders that compromises the immune system is at risk.

Do vaccines cause autism?  No.

Over the past 12 years, well over a hundred studies have been done, many of which were trying to find a link,  were unable to find one.  The few studies that suggested there may be a link, were found to be flawed or fraudulent after peer review.  Certain procedures must always be followed when conducting a study like this- the few that found the link failed to meet certain scientific standards- these standards prevent studies from finding biased results.

Autism has been around for a very long time- since well before vaccines were even a twinkle in Edward Jenner's eyes.  That was a long time ago, when everything was different including the names of diagnosis and treatments.  People with autism were 'diagnosed' as "disturbed", "derranged","mad" "afflicted","deluded" or "insane" and either died as children or were forced to live in asylums or sanitariums.

There are many theories about famous historical persons having autism spectrum disorders, but without a time machine no one can ever be certain.

Children in areas of the world where vaccines do not exist still have autism.

How can you protect your child if you are worried about vaccines?

Thimerosal (a preservative) was the center of the debate for a while but it has been removed from childhood vaccines and most adult vaccines to help ease public fears.  If a child needs a vaccine and it does contain thimerosal, the parent can request thimerosal free- it will possibly require special ordering and occasionally a doctor's office will try to convince them "it is not possible" if this happens, simply call around to a few other clinics or hospitals because they are probably either unaware or being lazy.

Schedule:  Today's vaccination schedules are a bit crazy.  With kids needing so many so close together, the newer concern amongst anti vaccine advocates has been that giving so many so close together  causes an overload.  You can talk to your child's doctor about adjusting the schedule so that your child receives only one or two at a time and space them out 2 weeks apart as opposed to 5 shots in one visit.  Usually the schedule is so intense because it is more convenient which increases the likelihood that a parent will remember to get all of the vaccines for the child.

If you feel strongly that you do not want your child to have a particular vaccine- what about the others?  Do some research yourself (beyond autism forums please)   Give them as many as you are comfortable with to help protect them. Perhaps you are concerned about the child being too young? If you have already waived vaccines, consider giving them when your child is older- it is best to follow the schedule (as far as age goes), but late is better than never.

If you decide to change the schedule and you have a newborn, it is a good idea to keep them home and take a few extra precautions (wash hands more frequently than usual)  until they are caught up on all of their initial doses- your doctor can explain it to you when you discuss it.


  1. I'm not sure that I understand the scenario with the kids and the mom with cancer? Vaccines don't necessarily prevent you from catching something, either of those kids could get the disease with or without the vaccine. I don't have children, but I don't get vaccines for myself. A couple of years ago, when everyone was scared about the swine flu epidemic, I caught it. I don't think a vaccine would have prevented it, I would have gotten it either way. My fiance didn't stay away from me to avoid getting it. He never caught the "swine flu," and he never had a flu/swine flu vaccination, it's just something we don't do. For myself, I suppose I'd rather risk getting sick than experience whatever the crazy side effects are.

  2. Thank you so much for your comment! I love hearing other thoughts!

    The scenario with the kid is that a kid with an active infection in close proximity to another child- even one who has been immunized- exposes the protected child to the virus (in an active form which is different to the organism living on a surface and in greater quantity) and the immunized child can become a carrier. A carrier is when someone is carrying an active disease but their own immune system fights it off so they never become sick themselves. The carrier then comes in contact with someone who can not fight infection and that person catches the virus. It is just a weird example but the kind of scenario that is often forgotten.

    The vaccines themselves can be different things- there are killed virus, attenuated, toxoid, subunit, or conjugate. They essentially all do the same thing though. The intent of the vaccines is to trick your body into fighting off the disease. When you have had no vaccine and are exposed to a pathogen, your body must learn how to fight it in order to eradicate it. Some diseases are much harder than others to learn to fight off so we vaccinate to trick the body into thinking that the specific pathogen is in the body which forces the body to attack the pathogen. Once our body has learned how to fight the pathogen, it 'remembers' how to fight it so if you are exposed again you will be fine- like when you catch chicken pox as a kid and rarely catch it more than once or twice in your lifetime- even when surrounded by kids who have it.

    Some vaccines like the flu shot are a gamble. Each year, a different strain of influenza breaks out but the shot must be ready before flu season so scientists make the vaccine for the year using statistics to try and predict which of the many to vaccinate for. These are most effective for at risk people like babies, the elderly, and people with immune system problems I personally do not bother with the flu shot unless I will be caring for someone at risk during the season.

    The swine flu: So sorry to hear that you got it- but if you are exposed to it again it will probably be easier if you catch it at all! The media went nuts with that one, I was getting phone calls all night for weeks by terrified people who thought it was going to be like "The Stand" by Stephen King. I chose not to be vaccinated for that one too as there were limited supplies and that particular infection is dangerous to those in high risk groups while there is a low risk of death in healthy populations. Had it been something like polio or the plague, I probably would have gotten the vaccine.

  3. Thanks for your reply. :)

    I'm not very sure on my stand, but I suppose there may be some vaccines that are necessary. But it seems they have a vaccine for every little thing now and I don't think that's right.

    The media had a huge scare with the swine flu thing. I wasn't that worried about it (even with having asthma, which I guess is a risk thing), and I didn't get "sick," just lots of body aches. It definitely wasn't as bad as the time I had an upper respiratory infection AND bronchitis at the same time. That had to be the worse I've ever been sick.