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.