Opinion: Got Vaccinations? | The American Word

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Opinion: Got Vaccinations?

Elise Moore | 11/4/16 2:41pm
| Updated 11/4/16 2:41pm

Elise Moore /
American Word Magazine

Millions of lives have been saved by vaccinations. And yet, there are still adults who resist vaccinating themselves and their children, making this a major public health issue.

There should be no debate on the efficacy of vaccines. Smallpox was eradicated because of vaccinations. Because of the polio vaccine, the disease causing paralysis in many children is growing increasingly rare in the U.S. It is indisputable: vaccines save lives.

However, there is an increased trend in anti-vaccination; parents are refusing to vaccinate their children. As a result there have been outbreaks. For instance, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported an increase in the number of measles cases, and in 2014 there was an outbreak of measles at “the happiest place on earth,” Disneyland. Forty people (including many children) contracted measles while at the theme park. Long-term acquired immunity against measles can be found in the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella). The reason so many people were infected with measles can be found in the foundations of the anti-vaccine movement, a movement rooted in fear.

Much of the misinformation about vaccines stems from a discredited research paper by Andrew Wakefield. In his paper, Wakefield links vaccinating for MMR to autism. Wakefield’s research is not reliable, meaning it could not be replicated, therefore it is not valid. Despite there being many studies that the MMR vaccine is safe, people started believing a debate exists over the efficacy and treatment of vaccination.

A major cornerstone of the anti-argument is that it contains preservatives that are toxic. Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative that some people fear is poisoning their children and leading to developmental disorders. There are two types of mercury people are exposed to: methylmercury, known to be in fish and toxic at high levels, and ethylmercury, found in thimerosal. Thimerosal is safe in low doses and the body naturally eliminates the compound. And if parents are worried about exposing their child to Thimerosal, it is only in the flu vaccine and there a is a Thimerosal-free version.

Wakefield was the catalyst for what has resulted in a denial of the benefits of vaccines. One child not being vaccinated against a disease will not result in an outbreak because they will benefit from herd immunity, but many unvaccinated people pose a threat to a community’s health. According to the CDC, 91 percent of children in the U.S. have been vaccinated for MMR; for MMR herd immunity to exist 94 percent of the population needs to have acquired immunity.

As seen in the 2014 outbreak of measles in California, there are subgroups of populations that do not vaccinate their children and do not benefit from herd immunity. Vaccine refusal in California is shown to be higher in predominantly white neighborhoods with higher income such as Orange County (where Disneyland is) and Santa Barbara. The same piece cited that personal exemptions to vaccines in California schools doubled to 3 percent from 2007 to 2013.

Because the majority of children are vaccinated in the United States, it is concerning to see anti-vaccine activists discouraging parents from protecting their children from disease. Celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, who are anti-vaccination, have played a vocal role in the debate arising after the Wakefield paper. Her opinion on vaccines – originating from having a vaccinated son with autism – reflects the core pillars of the anti movement: vaccines may cause autism, further research is needed on the safety of vaccination, money drives the vaccination industry and there are toxins like mercury present in the inoculates.

McCarthy is not a scientist or a doctor. Her main call to action is to make vaccines safer, a just but unnecessary cause because vaccines are already safe. No link has been proven connecting autism and vaccinations. Vaccines are heavily researched and take 10 to 15 years to reach the general public. While companies do make a profit from vaccines, their research is not usually from the government which tends to give money to research at the university level.

Each of the arguments made by anti-vaxxers are popularized based off of discredited sources, the preachings of celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and fear. While McCarthy may be willing to put her child at risk to infection by not inoculating, it is not okay for her to put other children – the immunocompromised and those too young for a vaccine – at risk for disease. When researching vaccines and their safety, use resources that are credible like CDC and “The Journal of Pediatrics,” not celebrities with no background in the health sciences.

According to the World Health Organization, the MMR vaccine has saved 17.1 million lives worldwide. It is indisputable that vaccines are one of the biggest public health achievements. So rather than taking the myths behind vaccines as fact, it is time to return to the hard science of immunization. The anti-vaccination argument is not supported by science. And there is too much risk in not vaccinating children. Vaccines keep communities healthy and safe from devastating diseases.