Vaccination: Choice or Responsibility?
By Brett Rinehart
People of all walks of life share different views on a variety of topics and as a good rule of polite small talk certain subjects are considered taboo. They are usually either politics or religion. Included in politics is usually the matter of vaccination. Good people have differing opinions on the subject, ranging from doing it at all versus not getting them, or getting them but on a different schedule, or getting some and not others. Sometimes it seems like it’s the cool and trendy thing to not vaccinate. Others are convinced they must force their pro-vaccine view on everyone. If you are going to make a choice for yourself or your child, it should be your own informed choice. With information from actual experts you trust and relying on real peer reviewed science, not scare tactics that play into the fear of things we don’t understand. Parents should be required to have their children vaccinated fully and on time unless there is a true medical reason, such as an immune system compromise or a true allergy to the ingredients.
There is a lot of confusion around the subject of vaccines, what are they, how do they work, what happens to our bodies when we get one. I teach anatomy and physiology as well as pathophysiology and have been working in emergency medicine as a paramedic for 12 years. Let’s start with the basics of how the immune system even works. Antigens are foreign bodies like bacteria, viruses, proteins and cells other than your own that can activate the immune system. Immune cells (T-Cells) identify an antigen and start to attack, while other cells (B-Cells) start making antibodies. Antibodies are proteins that identify and attack specific antigens. It takes much longer to fight off an illness if you don’t have antibodies for it. When you have antibodies, your body fights it off right away and you don’t feel sick or have symptoms. When you have a certain level of antibodies you are considered immune. Vaccines work by introducing a weakened or inactive antigen and allowing your immune system to recognize it so that you develop antibodies. It is not unusual to feel some symptoms after getting a vaccine. That happens because your immune system is active fighting what it thinks is an invader. Things like fever, tiredness, stuffy or runny nose are all signs your immune system is fighting something off, not symptoms of the illness itself.
There are lots of reasons people don’t want to get vaccines, fear of needles for one, and I relate to that. With the flu shot you often hear people say “I got sick right after I got the shot.” Hopefully now you know that was just your body doing the right thing to make antibodies. The biggest problem however comes from a fraudulent study that linked MMR vaccines with autism. Even though numerous studies have proven that it was false and that the study was a sham, the public perception continues to be tainted. If you look at sites that advocate not using vaccines, they are full of very scary sounding reasons. Some of the popular claims are that vaccines have deadly chemical additives, or they have never been proved safe or effective, or vaccines don’t even work. Natural exposure is better and healthier. Parents who choose not to vaccinate feel they know what is best for their child, and that it doesn’t affect anyone else, so it shouldn’t be anyone’s business.
Vaccines are essential to keeping our children safe, happy, and healthy. They do not cause autism or any other mental disorders. Vaccines allow us as parents not to worry if our children will contract a fatal infectious disease. We no longer routinely see diseases like polio, small pox, mumps, measles or whooping cough. Before the widespread development of vaccines, parents really had to worry about their children contracting one of these and becoming severely ill or dying. The generation of parents now never saw anyone contract one of these grave conditions or saw the severity of the symptoms. It is very easy to underestimate the danger of something if you have never seen its devastation first hand, and it is even easier to overlook the need to prevent it when you don’t think it could ever happen.
Parents and children had many more illness to worry about before vaccines. Figure 1 above shows the rates of morbidity in the United States before the era of vaccines versus the rates now. Dr. Mark Crislip is an Infectious Disease doctor in Portland, and he wrote, “In 1800, infant mortality rates were 300 per 1,000 mostly due to infections. Thirty percent of children died of infection of one sort or another before vaccines” (Crislip). Now “because of vaccines, many of these diseases are rare in the U.S.” Today because of vaccines we aren’t worried about pertussis. Pertussis also known as whooping cough is an upper airway infection that can severely block the airway. “In the 1930s, there were 265,269 cases in the U.S., and 7,518 deaths. By 1976, there were 1,010 cases and four deaths. Before the vaccine, pertussis killed about 8,000 children a year” (Crislip).
Look at the rates of rubella in the U.S. before the MMR vaccine. Rubella virus is also known as German measles. There were 12.5 million cases in 1964-65, including 2,100 infant deaths, 11,250 fetal deaths, and 20,000 newborns born with congenital rubella syndrome (deafness, cataracts, mental retardation). The death rate used to be one in 3,000 to one in 10,000. In 2001 there were 836,000 cases with 100,000 cases of congenital rubella syndrome worldwide (Crislip).
Great progress has been made in keeping infectious disease at bay. Many have been nearly eliminated. That progress can’t be maintained if we don’t continue to take the appropriate steps. Recently, there was a measles outbreak in California that involved people who all had visited Disneyland. A report by Steven Reinberg says, “As of March 6, (2015) 142 of the 173 cases of measles in the United States had been tied to the Disney outbreak.” This outbreak was a direct result of the anti-vaccination movement: “MMR vaccination rates among the exposed population [in the outbreak] may be as low as 50 percent” (Reinberg). The break down in vaccination rates affects herd immunity. “Herd immunity occurs when most of the population has been vaccinated for an infectious disease, thereby providing some protection for people who are not vaccinated” (Reinberg). This could be the start of a dangerous trend. Peter Hotez writes in the New York Times, “Measles is one of the most contagious and most lethal of all human diseases. A single person infected with the virus can infect more than a dozen unvaccinated people” (Hotez).
It is tough being a parent, especially when you become one for the first time. With all the stories people post on social media about a friend of a friend whose child was hurt from a vaccine. Hearing stories about side effects of vaccines from different people and sources. No one you know has ever had Measles or Pertussis. Maybe you have read the FDA listed side effects and feel overwhelmed by information. You just want to do the right thing for you child. It is just human nature to protect our young. You don’t want your child to develop a lifelong injury or have a severe reaction. Trust your doctor, and their medical judgment. I’m sure that you didn’t pick them to be your doctor if you didn’t think they knew the right thing to do to care for your child.
The generation of parents who are choosing not to vaccinate their kids were vaccinated themselves. They didn’t get sick and develop a lifelong injury or live a life of sickness and suffering. These parents did not develop autism or suffer any of the damage they are trying to prevent. Just the opposite in fact. Because their parents chose to have them vaccinated and trust in the doctor, they didn’t get the measles or become crippled by polio. Today’s children need to be given the same care, to be vaccinated so they can live without the fear of an outbreak of diseases that had previously been under control. This anti-vaccine movement is dangerous for children. Multiple studies have proven the effectiveness and safety of vaccines. And history has proven what life without those vaccines looks like.
Parents, please vaccinate your children unless they have a true allergy to one of the ingredients, or for health reasons they can’t be vaccinated. Follow the correct vaccination schedule. Putting off vaccines only delays how long until your child is safe from that illness. Don’t be a freeloader, don’t rely on your child’s peers to have been vaccinated and that will keep them safe. Those parents may very well be afraid of the vaccines too. Being a parent is the hardest job in the world because you have to make tough choices. Choices you may not like, but you must do what is truly and scientifically in the best interest of your child and those they will interact with. Not vaccinating your child puts those too young, too weak or with a true allergy at increased risk. They would love to be able to get the vaccine, but they can’t. It is your duty to help protect those weaker in our society. And that is a lesson you can start teaching your child by getting them vaccinated.
Crislip, Mark. “In defense of vaccines–Part II.” Pediatrics for Parents, July-Aug. 2009, p. 2+. Health & Wellness Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com.clcc.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/A211804401/HWRC?u=22506&sid=HWRC&xid=7e10abd3. Accessed 25 Mar. 2018.
Hotez, Peter J. “How the Anti-Vaxxers Are Winning.” New York Times, 8 Feb. 2017, p. A25(L). Health & Wellness Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com.clcc.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/A480364414/HWRC?u=22506&sid=HWRC&xid=463bd999. Accessed 25 Mar. 2018.
Reinberg, Steven. “Low Vaccination Rates Likely Behind Disney Measles Outbreak: Study; Disease may continue to spread unless more people get shots to protect against infection, experts warn.” Consumer Health News, 16 Mar. 2015. Health & Wellness Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com.clcc.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/A405660588/HWRC?u=22506&sid=HWRC&xid=f9e7e09
b. Accessed 25 Mar. 2018.
Taylor, Paul. “The great vaccination debate: With polio vanquished and other deadly diseases in decline, many parents are saying no to the needle. But as more children go unprotected, could some lethal illnesses be poised for a comeback? PAUL TAYLOR reports.” Globe & Mail [Toronto, Canada], 20 Dec. 2003, p. F6. Health & Wellness Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com.clcc.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/A133906500/HWRC?u=22506&sid=HWRC&xid=8051748f. Accessed 25 Mar. 2018.
Trull, Frankie L “Don’t Grow Immune to the Value of Vaccines” Churubusco News 7 July 2015, pro-vaccine-stats1.jpg. Accessed 25 Mar. 2018.
Course: ENG 101, Spring 2018
Assignment: Research Argument
Instructor: Daniela Ragusa
Photo credit: Centers for Disease Control (CDC)