My kids are 7 and 1-1/2, but I have been pro-vaccination for much longer. I have studied and worked in the field of developmental disabilities, including autism, for over 10 years, and nothing I have seen, read, or studied has ever shaken my stance on this issue. I have read peer-reviewed, evidence-based case studies on vaccinations and their effects, correlations, and have seen meta-analyses done of mass amounts of these studies over time. I have also been watching the news, just as you have, to see that formerly eradicated diseases are popping up again. Here. In the United States. A first-world country.
I also read Facebook.
Suddenly, there are new articles and blog posts about vaccines every day. I share the good ones. By “good ones,” I mean, the posts that are pro-vaccine, share solid science, and try to limit the amount of contempt they have for anti-vaxxers. So why am I adding to the huge glut of vaccination information being spewed onto your news feed? I have two reasons really. My first reason is that I read the comments under every vaccination article, and there are still a vast number of people that don’t understand how vaccines work, what herd immunity means, and why those of us with vaccinated children even CARE if someone else doesn’t choose to vaccinate. Secondly, I want to state what I know, plainly, cleanly, and without malice. So without further ado, here is what I know, all of which can be verified by the Center for Disease Control.
Vaccines Work— For some reason, some people doubt that vaccines were the reason that certain diseases were eradicated. I have trouble believing that I can change peoples’ minds about this if they stick to their guns after reviewing the facts. The facts are that since the polio vaccine was discovered, polio was eradicated. See the graph below from cdc.gov:
The same thing can be said for whooping cough, measles, and smallpox. In third-world countries, where vaccinations aren’t 100%, they still see polio, whooping cough, and smallpox. This should be self-explanatory. There are hundreds of studies that back up this claim. Vaccines WORK. Now, HOW do they work?
Vaccines work by injecting an imitation or inactive form of a virus. It can’t make you sick because it’s not a living organism, but it DOES trick your body into thinking you have a disease. Your body responds by doing what it does best–fighting the disease. The reason you sometimes get a fever after a vaccine is not because it has made you sick. The flu, for example, doesn’t CREATE a fever. A fever is the body’s first natural weapon against illness. In raising the body’s temperature, it kills off invading bacteria and viruses without harming your own healthy cells. But the real miracle of vaccines is that it teaches your body the precise combination of immunities it needs to fight off the disease you’re being vaccinated for. If you’ve been injected with the measles vaccination, for example, your body learns to cure itself of measles. After receiving the vaccination (and having all subsequent boosters required), at least 90% of human bodies will then be able to fight off measles in the event of an exposure. Only 90%? Maybe more, but vaccinations are effective at least 90% of the time. What about the other 10%? Well, that’s the other, more indirect way in which vaccines work. Herd Immunity.
Herd Immunity— This rather indelicate term refers to a herd of animals protecting itself from a predator. The stronger animals circle the weaker animals to protect those that can’t protect themselves, strengthening the herd as a whole. This same principle can be applied to vaccines. Some people cannot be protected by vaccines. These people are comprised of the 10% or so of people for whom vaccinations simply don’t work, the millions of babies too young to receive their vaccinations, or the millions of people who are too sick to be vaccinated, such as those with auto-immune diseases, or cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. The ONLY way we can protect these people from measles, polio, whooping cough, and many other potentially fatal illnesses, is by ensuring that those of us strong enough TO receive the vaccinations DO receive our vaccinations.
Pro-Choice is Dangerous— When it comes to male circumcision, co-sleeping, organic food, discipline, and almost every other decision a parent has to make for his/her child, I am strongly pro-choice. Your child, your choice. HOWEVER, when it comes to the vaccination debate, a healthy, unvaccinated child puts other people at risk. I understand the argument from a parent who feels like their children are healthy enough to simply CATCH measles and allow the body to create immunities on its own. It makes perfect sense–except that for 4 days before and 4 days after that child exhibits any symptoms, they are HIGHLY infectious, posing a risk not only to babies, but other unvaccinated children, AND the 10% of vaccinated people for whom the vaccine just didn’t work. The recent Disneyland outbreak is a perfect example of how infectious measles can be. The virus lives in saliva and sneeze droplets for up to TWO HOURS outside the human body, and has a 90% rate of transmission. That means…well imagine a healthy 30 year old man walks into a giant conference room. He has measles but he doesn’t know it because he doesn’t have a rash or a fever yet. He sneezes, and leaves the room. Two hours later, 100 people enter the conference room. Statistically, if none of them have been vaccinated, 90 out of 100 people will leave that room having contracted measles. If ALL of them have been vaccinated, up to 10 could still leave that room with measles, because as we’ve previously discussed, the vaccine isn’t 100% effective without herd immunity. Those 5-10 people will then go on to infect others.
So Why Not Vaccinate?–People choose not to vaccinate for various reasons. They may believe that vaccines are full of toxins that could harm their child, that the risks of contracting the viruses are lower than the risks from vaccines, that vaccines are linked to autism, or they believe they’ve educated themselves with enough information to make an educated decision. I’ll address these concerns.
Toxins Aren’t Real–I’m not saying that certain substances aren’t toxic. There are many harmful substances that can hurt our bodies, but those same substances in smaller levels, or alternate forms, can be healthy, and even helpful for our bodies. Take rosemary for example. Rosemary is an herb that is not only delicious, but can be used as an anti-fungal element, insect repellent, and may even contain anti-cancer properties. If eaten in huge amounts, however, rosemary has been found to increase bleeding, induce miscarriage, and increase risks of seizure (WebMD). Vaccines have been criticized for carrying small doses of formaldehyde (renders the virus in a vaccine inactive. Most formaldehyde is removed prior to packaging), and mercury (found in Thimerosol, used to prevent bacterial growth). These same “toxins,” however, are NATURALLY OCCURRING in foods we eat every day, in much larger amounts than those found in the vaccines.
Vaccines and Autism–Most people by now understand that the link between vaccines and autism has been not only disproved, but revealed as fraudulent. Most people also understand that Jenny McCarthy shouted for years about how vaccines gave her child autism…and now says her child may never have had autism. What many people don’t yet know is that the autistic community at large is PRO-vaccine, and accept autism as a celebrated part of themselves rather than an illness or disability. The words “autism” and “vaccines” should no longer occur in the same sentences.
Educate Yourself–BUT, and this is a huge caveat, your education needs to come from the right sources. I understand a lot of people mistrust the government and totally discount anything on the CDC website. If this is the case, find other studies that come from reputable sources. These should be peer-reviewed and evidence based. It’s also important to understand the difference between correlations and causation. The word “correlation” is often used in scientific studies to say that “when we see A, we also happen to see B.” There is a true correlation between ice cream sales and crime. Does that mean that ice cream causes people to commit crimes? Nope, but it might mean that warmer weather somehow leads to more violence…but that’s a correlation too! Maybe warm weather affects some other variable that leads to an increase in crime. We don’t know. What we DO know, however, is that a correlation does NOT indicate a causation.
Risks–There ARE risks to vaccines. Most of the time it’s fever, rash, allergy, or some other mild reaction. One in a million will have a life-threatening reaction. Some parents will say that they’d rather risk their child getting measles, rubella, mumps, or chicken pox rather than subject their child to a potentially life-threatening vaccine, even though the mortality rates of measles, rubella, mumps, and chicken pox are all higher than the mortality rate of a vaccine. What parents sometimes forget is that it’s statistically more dangerous to get in a car than take a vaccine. It’s more dangerous to take antibiotics than to get a vaccine. Weigh the risks if you must, but the numbers don’t lie. Vaccines are not only important, but statistically safer than most things we do on a daily basis.
Do The Right Thing–Vaccination isn’t important only for yourself and your own kids, but for your whole community. Not everyone is safe. Not everyone is healthy. Not everyone can live through the effects of measles or whooping cough. It’s not enough to be “pro-choice” when it comes to vaccinations, because not everyone has that choice…and for their sake, we need to educate ourselves, be socially responsible, and vaccinate every healthy child. It’s the right thing to do.
All images borrowed from cdc.gov