According to the World Health Organization, vaccine refusal is one of the top 10 global health threats in 2019. There is a growing trend of parents not vaccinating their children because of some beliefs they have about vaccines and are obtaining misleading information from the internet. In this article, I will be addressing these beliefs and what’s wrong with them.
Argument 1: “Diseases were already going away before vaccines were even used”
There were several factors that could have contributed to controlling diseases before the invention of vaccines. Better sanitation, better socioeconomic conditions, development of antibiotics, and less crowded living conditions all played a positive part. However, the introduction of vaccines was what really drove the number of some diseases to drop dramatically.
If we look at developed countries like Great Britain and Japan, we can see how the retraction of vaccines had a big impact. These two countries had temporarily retracted the vaccine for pertussis (whooping cough) in 1974. In Great Britain, people were questioning the safety of the vaccine because of the Kulenkampff et al. study where they suggested that neurological complications of 36 children were caused by the vaccine. After there was a drop in people getting the pertussis vaccine, an epidemic occurred where there were more than 100,000 cases of pertussis and 36 deaths by 1978.
In Japan, they also temporarily stopped using the vaccine because there were reports of deaths following the vaccine. In 1974, there were 393 cases of whooping cough and no deaths, but these numbers jumped to 13,000 cases and 41 deaths by 1979 after the vaccine wasn’t used. From these cases, we can easily see that the development of vaccines made a great impact on the decrease on the prevalence of pertussis.
The main point is that diseases would not be disappearing with the retraction of vaccines and vaccines play a key role in stopping and potentially eradicating several dangerous diseases.
Argument 2: Vaccine-preventable diseases are no longer a threat we need to protect ourselves from
Though it is true that we have seen a decrease in vaccine-preventable diseases, it does not mean that we should stop vaccinating our kids.
In a survey completed by 391 parents who claimed exemption from vaccines for school requirements, 20.9% indicated that the disease was not dangerous so they did not have their children vaccinated. This is problematic because while it may seem most of the diseases have been in control, vaccines are still crucial in keeping that control.
Let’s look at the case of measles. In 2018, there were 372 cases of measles in the United States. Now, in 2019, the number of cases has jumped to 1261 cases. According to the CDC, many of the cases are from people who have not been vaccinated against measles. Measles is a highly contagious disease, so an infected person can easily spread it to someone who has not been vaccinated against it. If you can be vaccinated, then get vaccinated. You are not only protecting yourself, but you are also protecting those around you who cannot get the vaccine due to allergies or compromised immune systems.
Argument 3: Vaccine causes autism
What really caused the popularity of the anti-vaxx movement to take off was when Jenny McCarthy, an American actress, model, and author claimed that vaccines caused her son’s autism.
She linked her statement to a (now retracted) 1998 study by Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor, and his 12 colleagues. In response to Wakefield’s study, many new studies came out immediately that rebutted the link between MMR vaccination and autism. There were many things wrong with Wakefield’s study, from terrible study design to experiments that were unethical and painful for children.
In the end, it became clear that the researchers only selected data that fitted their case and fabricated facts. On top of that, Wakefield had a financial interest where he was funded by lawyers who were engaged in lawsuits by parents against vaccine-producing companies. Consequently, Wakefield’s study and his doctor license were retracted. Nevertheless, despite all these problems, many people still believe Wakefield’s fabricated study.
Argument 4: Multiple vaccinations will overload children’s immune system
As children, it is important that they are exposed to different antigens in their environment so their immune system can build antibodies. There is a hypothesis called the “biodiversity hypothesis” where it states that people who have reduced contact with the natural environment can affect the composition of their microbiota, which are good bacteria found in our bodies as a defense mechanism. Less exposure to the natural environment can decrease the ability for the immune system to adjust to different antigens. By exposing oneself to the natural environment, they are protecting themselves from allergy and inflammatory disorders. Every day, children are exposed to many foreign antigens from playing outside, eating food, and infants placing objects or their hands in their mouths. Vaccines do the same thing because they are introducing specific antigens into the child’s body to help build antibodies against it. Administering multiple vaccines is really no different from the child being exposed to many different antigens in their environment. In fact, advantages from receiving multiple vaccines in one doctor visit are early exposure to vaccines which protect children during the early months of their lives, reduces the number of doctor visits which saves the parent money and time, and ensures that there will be no missed opportunities to get the recommended vaccine. Children are already being exposed to many different antigens from their environment, so adding a few more from vaccines is not overloading their immune system.
Vaccines were invented for a reason and have been proven countless of times that they are effective in preventing outbreaks of diseases. Natural immunity is just not enough. Getting vaccinated does not only protect your child, but it also protects everyone around them. Vaccinations are important in keeping our population healthy and that cannot be stressed enough.