I have two precious children. I hate seeing them sick or suffering. Yet, as a pediatrician, I see lots of sick and suffering children every day, it makes my heart ache. In my last post, I chronicled my experience with mumps. It was awful and could have been prevented had my friends known to vaccinate their children.
Childhood vaccination has become a hot topic. Many parents are genuinely confused about what is best to do for their child. And who wouldn’t be? Anti-vaccine websites abound with fear mongering techniques:
- Pictures of dolls pin cushioned with needles captioned with, “Would you do THIS to YOUR child?”
- Blenders filled with mercury and eggs–“would you feed THIS to YOUR child?”
- And stories of supposed government cover-ups.
What these websites fail to mention is the other side of the story. The story of children who have died or suffered serious complications from the very diseases vaccines prevent. The diseases vaccines protect against are very real and very deadly. Thanks to vaccines, we rarely see these diseases in our country any more.
Take Sarah (pseudonym) for instance. Sarah is a parent of one of my patients. Sarah’s parents were very cautious about immunizations and after much consideration decided to avoid them altogether. Therefore, Sarah and her brother were not immunized. Unfortunately, Sarah’s brother contracted polio and has had severe sequela (negative aftereffects) from this disease.
Then there is the patient I took care of with chicken pox meningitis. His parents opted not to get the chicken pox vaccine because in their own words, “chicken pox is a disease all kids used to get as a rite of passage”. This “rite of passage disease” landed their son in a pediatric ICU.
Want to see tetanus? Take a trip to a third world country tetanus ward, where even the sound of a footstep can send sufferers into life-threatening muscle spasms. I have seen it. Again, this disease is completely preventable by vaccination.
These stories aren’t being told on anti-vaccine websites; but what about vaccines themselves? Could it be that the vaccine may be worse than the risk of contracting one of these diseases? Let’s look at a few of the concerns raised on most anti-vaccine websites.
Ingredients in vaccines.
We know that the diseases are terrible, but if the risk is low, could the “danger” of toxic ingredients from a vaccine outweigh the risk of contracting the disease? Thankfully, there is no secret conspiracy to hide what’s in our vaccines. This information is readily available. The CDC has a great page anyone can visit with a complete list of all the ingredients in all the vaccines: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/additives.htm.
Download the PDF “vaccine ingredients sorted by vaccine.” They also explain the function of some of the most common additives. In brief, the added ingredients for vaccines are important for:
- preserving the vaccine from infection
- presenting the vaccine to the bodies immune system
- and preserving the “shelf life” of the vaccine.
Thimerosal has been removed from pediatric vaccines since 2001 due to a theoretical concern for neurologic sequelae (which was never conclusively demonstrated). Other ingredients are constantly monitored by the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). The American Academy of Pediatrics has an excellent article that goes into vaccine ingredients in more detail. See http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/112/6/1394.full.
What about vaccines and autism?
Hasn’t a link between MMR and autism been conclusively demonstrated? No, it has not. An excellent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Society shows NO association between the MMR vaccine and autism. Here is a link to the actual article: http://www.giuseppepingitore.it/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/autismo_MMR_JAMA2015.pdf.
In summary, over 90,000 children with older siblings were reviewed retrospectively. They compared sibling pairs that had received immunizations with sibling pairs that had not and found no increase in autism or an autism spectrum disorder in those children who received the MMR vaccination.
What about vaccine schedule?
Won’t the child’s immune system be overwhelmed by all the antigens he or she receives? No. Your child might be exposed to at most a few hundred antigens from a vaccine but they are exposed to THOUSANDS of antigens just licking a few toys that have been lying on the floor. Here is an excellent link summarizing how well your child’s immune system can handle antigens: http://www.quackwatch.com/03HealthPromotion/immu/too_many.html.
But what about vaccine effectiveness?
Hadn’t the terrible diseases that vaccines protect against already started to go away thanks to improved hygiene before vaccines were introduced? Are vaccines really that effective in eradicating bad diseases? Beware. Anti-vaccine websites LOVE to show graphs which they claim PROVE vaccines aren’t affective. For example:
Looks like vaccines haven’t done anything, right? Well, this is actually not the case. This is a graph rate showing the DEATH rate from measles. As one can see, that had already dramatically declined thanks to advances in medicine. And it is true, if you get measles today, you will probably not die. However, measles does a lot more than kill: it can cause permanent brain damage, permanent hearing loss, and severe pneumonia. You may not die, but could have long-term sequela. So, what would be more helpful is to know: did the measles vaccine decrease the NUMBER of cases of measles? And YES, it did. See the graph below:
The measles vaccine was licensed in 1962, and as you can see, that’s when the number of cases started to decline. It didn’t completely disappear until 1993.
In summary, I know I can’t protect my two precious children from everything bad in the world, but the horrible vaccine preventable diseases are something I CAN protect them from. Both my children have received all their immunizations at the recommended immunization schedule rate. It’s the best I can do as a parent.