Among the general public, vaccines are a divisive topic. Some feel that all vaccines, from polio to the common flu shot, should be required for every child. Others, conversely, claim that vaccines cause illness and autism and should be avoided at all costs. With stakes as high as they are, I think it is very important to find the scientific suggestions surrounding this controversial topic.
Before I looked to scientific data surrounding vaccine studies, I decided to examine how
vaccines work. A vaccine contains weak or dead germs that are similar to those that cause disease. These help the body to produce more antibodies, which fight stronger forms of the particular disease. According to the Center for Disease Control, the first vaccine treated smallpox and was discovered in the late 1700’s. As we discussed in class, scientists at the time were unsure of the mechanism behind vaccination. While this mechanism seems like it makes sense, there have been claims that vaccines will make one ill or even give autism. The best way to determine if vaccines help or hurt is, of course, to examine scientific data.
A common concern among those who are sceptical towards vaccines is about “overwhelming” the immune system with the plethora of recommended shots. After all, there are now 14 suggested vaccinations for babies compared to the previous 8, according to the CDC. However, this study and many like it suggest that vaccinations, including the administration of several in a short time period, is perfectly safe. It looked at over 1000 children and their vaccination schedules, and then followed up years later by measuring a number of neuropsychological outcomes. The children who had delayed vaccination schedule or opted for fewer vaccinations were not significantly better on any outcome. In fact, the well-vaccinated children had performed better. This study is observational, so there could be confounding variables affecting the performance on their test. One example of this is the level of education there parents provide. It is possible that parents who choose to vaccinate completely provide a better education for their children than those who do not, and that the actual vaccination has no effect on their neurological functions. Despite this, however, I believe this study provides valuable insight as to how safe vaccinations may be. It observed a large amount of patients and thoroughly measured neuropsychological function with 42 tests.
Other evidence that I have gathered points towards vaccines being overwhelmingly effective, but at some cost. While they do an excellent job of preventing illness (many diseases, such as smallpox and polio, have been eradicated) there are some mild to severe ranging effects. One example of this is what is called the MMRV vaccine. This is a combination of many of the typical vaccines given to newborns. This study shows that fevers and rashes occurred more frequently in patients who received both the MMR and Varicella vaccines at the same time, rather than at separate appointments. While this is observational and therefore cannot indicate a causal link, it does seem to suggest that the weakened or dead virus being administered does have negative effects on the baby. Furthermore, febrile seizures occurred almost twice as often when these vaccines were given together than they would if given on separate occasions. While these instances were still exceedingly rare, I found it very surprising that an excess of vaccines may have adverse effects. Since it seems to contradict other sources I have viewed, I’d like more time and research to be given to this particular area.
One of the largest, and most alarming, areas of concern surrounding vaccinations is the possibility of causing autism. I learned during my research that this concept is the result of a single study headed by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that concluded a possible link between a vaccination, gastrointestinal illness, and autism. Unfortunately, I was unable to find the original study as it seems even its original place of publication (The Lancet) have retracted it. Ample information on how it was conducted, however, is available. According to an analysis on the study, the parents of 8 children experiencing a loss in developmental skills believed there to be a link between the children’s regression and the MMR vaccine. To me, this immediately raises several concerns. The study was based off of a mere 8 out of 12 children. This sample size is extremely low, and I believe that it would be very difficult to draw any real conclusions out of it. Furthermore, the only evidence of the children’s difficulties being linked to vaccines is from the testimony of their parents. Autism is a condition that puts tremendous strain on those affected, and because of the irrational mindset of humans, many may feel the need to put the blame on something extrinsic. I believe that this is the fallacy that many anti-vaccinators fall into. Since the publication of this study in 1998, numerous tests and trials have found evidence that contradicts it. Rather than Wakefield’s misleading conclusion being drawn from chance, however, his study could be the result of fraud. The General Medical Council concluded that not only had the data of Wakefield’s 1998 been misrepresented and faked, but also that his study was conducted unethically. Wakefield, unfortunately, had outside financial incentives to falsify his report. If anything, I think that this study shows how hugely detrimental scientific fraud can be for the world. Because of one single study, many children are being denied life-saving vaccines by well meaning but ill informed parents.
In conclusion, it seems that the benefits of vaccinations far outway any negatives. With the exception of allergies, vaccines lead only to mild side effects such as redness, soreness, and rashes with the faint possibility of something more serious that is still up for debate. Evidence supporting severe implications, such as autism, is widely considered fraudulent by the scientific community. A rational person should most definitely fully vaccinate themselves and their children as the eradication of deadly disease is far more valuable than mild discomfort.