When I first heard about the anti-vaccination movement, I was floored. It was stunning to me that people were advocating for something that could be so dangerous to public health and the safety of children. From a young age, I was taught that getting my vaccinations was important, and even though I didn’t like the needles, I complied so that I didn’t get an infectious and dangerous disease. I still believe in vaccines to this day and have many questions about the validity of this anti-vaccine movement. Why do some people choose not to have their children vaccinated? Why are they so opposed to vaccines? And finally, do anti-vaccine proponents have a solid scientific basis for their beliefs? For this post, I decided to do some research and find out.
I decided to start with understanding the other side’s viewpoints, so I could determine whether or not they had any legitimacy to them. For my source of anti-vaccination arguments, I found this pretty thorough blog that didn’t seem all that credible in terms of presenting actual scientific research, but it did highlight all the key arguments of the anti-vaccination viewpoint. Upon clicking on the blog, I was smacked in the face by the first, and one of the most prominent arguments, against vaccines: vaccines cause autism.
The notion that vaccines can cause the development of autism has been around for quite some time and has been hotly debated. This belief originated from a study done in 1998 by British scientist Andrew Wakefield. The study followed twelve children and found a link between the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccinations and the later development of behavioral disorders, most notably autism. Already, the study had a fundamental flaw in that it followed so few children and was absolutely riddled with confounding variables. Scientists picked up on the many flaws in the experiment, and Wakefield was criticized by others who even went so far as to declare fraud. This review of evidence in the field cited multiple studies where a causal link between vaccines and autism was not shown. The analysis then goes on to conclude that there is not enough evidence to declare that the vaccines are setting up children to develop autism. Both of these criticisms are examples of how peer review can stop the spread of false information, as Wakefield’s article has seen been retracted from the journal it was originally published in.
Another argument I found on the anti-vaccine blog was that there are dangerous chemicals found in vaccines that could be harmful, such as carcinogens. This post argued that the government and the media claims these substances are harmless, but that we can’t trust them to be telling the truth about the matter. To me, this sounds a bit too much like a conspiracy theory to be credible. In addition, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention published a pretty thorough article on the ingredients in vaccines and why some that may seem dangerous are actually in small enough doses that it doesn’t harm us. Instead, they enhance the effectiveness. However, this is a government website that supports the use of vaccines, so there is also bias in this report. In the end, though, the government information comes across as more credible than a random blog.
So, anti-vaccination arguments don’t hold up in the face of evidence. As it turns out, neither does the actual practice of not vaccinating your children. In 2014 and early 2015, the United States experienced an outbreak of measles. According to this article, it was a disease thought to be eradicated in the US around the year 2000. However, 2014 saw the most cases of measles since 2000, and according to the same fact sheet, most of the people who get measles are unvaccinated. This outbreak certainly seems to shed a ton of doubt on the legitimacy of the anti-vaccination movement.
What I found in my research points to one conclusion: an anti-vaccination stance is not a smart one. While believers in the movement may try to prove certain arguments like vaccines cause autism or that they have dangerous chemicals, these ideas are not upheld by the scientific community. In addition, not vaccinating children led to an outbreak of a disease that vaccines helped to minimize entirely. Unfortunately, many of the people in this movement seem to be deniers; no matter how much evidence tears down their arguments, they will still believe what they believe. Taking an optimistic view, hopefully these people can learn to change their mindset, if only for the health of their children.