By J. Ron Eaker, M.D.
It’s back to school time and along with new clothes, middle school drama, and bus schedules, another parental worry has reared its ugly head…vaccines. Just when you thought the Jenny McCarthy brand of vaccine opposing lunacy has subsided, an outbreak of preventable measles is sweeping the country, mostly affecting school age children. Last year recorded the second highest number of cases since measles was essentially eradicated in the U.S. in 2000. Most health experts attribute this rise to the decreased vaccination status of children.
People who are fully vaccinated against measles have very little risk of becoming infected. The vaccine provides an estimated 95 percent protection. But measles is one of the most infectious viruses known and will infect more than 90 percent of non-immunized people who come into contact, i.e. school children.
So why are more people choosing not to vaccinate their children? Many argue it is a parental rights issue and while that may play a role, I want to focus on the medical aspect. In particular, I want to address the safety of vaccines and the pseudo science and outright fraud used by some in the anti-vaccine crowd to bolster their confused and uninformed stance.
As I understand it, the anti-vaccine argument hinges on the idea that vaccines cause a variety of illnesses ranging from autism to auto immune problems. The only problem with this theory is that there is absolutely no credible evidence that any of it is true. Granted, an individual may have a local reaction to an injection, or even an allergic reaction to one of the components of the vaccine, but no legitimate studies have ever shown a connection of vaccines to chronic health problems. Dr.William Schaffner, a professor and infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt, states, “We have roomfuls of evidence showing that vaccines are some of the safest medications available, but rumors and conspiracy theories still spread.”
Many of these conspiracy theories are propagated by websites that clearly have an agenda or are selling a product. I found several that were promoting “vaccine alternatives” for a tidy sum of cash. Many of these products were homeopathic (which equates to worthless) and provided no scientific backing for their claims. A red flag in almost every site was their reliance on anecdotes and personal stories to propagate their message. While this is engaging and emotionally appealing, it does nothing to establish the truth of their claims. I agree with many who say we all must take responsibility for our health decisions, but part of that responsibility is researching legitimate science and not listening to pseudo-science propaganda. The amount of outright falsehoods and misinformation spewed on some webpages I researched was frightening. Statements like, “Fully vaccinated children are the unhealthiest, most chronically ill children I know,” which appears prominently on one anti-vaccine site, is illustrative of such vast illogical reasoning I hesitate to even draw attention to it, but it is a great example of what is wrong with these arguments. The author bases her opinion on talking to a few of her like-minded friends at playgroup yet uses this conclusion as a foundation for her disdain of vaccines. She falls into the trap of using personal testimony as evidence of cause and effect. This is a classic ploy used by the anti vaccine crowd who assume an association is the cause of a condition when in reality no such cause and effect exists (as proven in many studies).
Many anti-vaccers quote as evidence of their crusade a seminal paper from 1998 published in The Lancet by Dr.Andrew Wakefield and colleagues. His work, involving only 12 subjects (ridiculously small for a scientific study), suggested that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine may predispose to behavioral regression and pervasive developmental disorder in children, i.e. autism like symptoms. Shortly after publication, 10 of the 12 authors wrote a retraction stating, “no causal link was established between MMR vaccine and autism as the data were insufficient.” It was later learned that much of the data was actually fabricated by Wakefield, yet this study is still held up as evidence of vaccine danger.
Enough of the negative. What is there to gain from properly vaccinating your child? The Centers for Disease Control estimate that vaccines given over the past two decades will prevent 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations, 732,000 deaths, and save upwards of $295 billion in direct health care expenditures.
The science is clear: vaccines are safe and effective. The evidence is overwhelming that this bastion of modern medical preventive care should be widely and confidently accepted by us all.
This article appears in the August 2019 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
Did you like what you read here?