Mark Zuckerberg posted a photo of himself and daughter Max at the doctor's office as they waited for Max's turn to be vaccinated on Friday, and it quickly sparked an argument between the anti-vaxxers and the pro-vaccination people.
Vaccination, especially in early childhood, has been the subject of debate for years and there is still no clear indication of when the issue would be finally put to rest. Just what exactly are the conflicting sides fighting about and why does the issue continue to persist? We'll give you an overview of the issue by presenting arguments from both sides.
Anti-vaxxers claim that vaccines are not safe, but the reasons that most bring up has to do with manufacture and testing, prevalence of the disease being vaccinated against, natural versus artificial immunity, personal choice, cases of autism, as well as the existence of the Office of Special Masters, also known as the Vaccine Injury Court.
Let's take a look at each of them to determine why the issue just can't seem to get resolved. Here are the top myths with regard to vaccines (PDF).
Myth #1: Vaccines Are Unsafe
This argument has to do with manufacture and testing of vaccines as well as its administration. The Anti-Vaccine Movement (AVM) claims that the ingredients in the vaccines are harmful for children and that they are not adequately tested, hence, it could lead to serious health problems for the child.
However, like anything that received approval from the Food and Drugs Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccines have been rigorously studied and tested. Should there be any claims that may question the safety of vaccines – for instance, the presence of a substance like thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative – scientific and medical agencies would take this into consideration and open the subject for study.
Of course, the study must have a scientific basis and not just be a collection of circumstantial evidence, as many from the AVM provide. So far, the scientific research that has been done on vaccines show that all ingredients are safe in the amounts they are used.
There have also been issues with regard to the number of required vaccines (PDF) being administered to children in a short span of time claiming that vaccines overload a child's immune system.
While it may be true that children are being given many vaccines, it is not necessarily true that a child's immune system can be overloaded just like that. The whole point of the vaccine is to introduce a weakened virus that the body can fight. Then the immune system remembers how to handle and defeat it, in case the same strain tries to enter your child's body in the future.
Myth #2: Natural Versus Artificial Immunity
Yes, our bodies have an immune system designed to fight diseases, but our immune system doesn't always have the right tools or "knowledge" on how to combat graver diseases. Sometimes, our bodies need that extra bit of information to enable it against more serious diseases, and that is what the vaccines provide.
In other words, the vaccines are a form of profiling for the immune system. Once a virus has been introduced as something to be eradicated, the immune system would not be easily fooled, even if it comes back wearing a fake beard and glasses.
Natural immunity kicks in after the body has successfully beaten and recovered from an illness, but results are not always successful and may even lead to death.
The artificialness of the vaccine may be attributed to it coming from laboratories, but that doesn't mean it will interfere with your natural immune system. Vaccines are designed to help in the immune system's further development and strength.
Myth #3: Personal Choice
The problem with personal choice, that is, AVM parents believing that people should not get themselves involved in their choice to not have their children vaccinated, is that it endangers others too. We have two words to share with you: herd immunity
Herd Immunity refers to a method of protecting a community by vaccinating a significant number of members. This enables a community to receive immunity from a disease by breaking the chain of infection.
"Every vaccinated person adds to the effectiveness of this community-level protection," PBS explains. How would that work? If more members are protected against a disease, it's less likely for them to spread it. If the chain of infection stops with them, the un-vaccinated kids are the recipient of indirect protection.
While it may be true that there are reasons for a personal choice, it is also true that there are dangers that come with it. Not just danger for your own child, but the likelihood of endangering an entire community as well, especially babies who have yet to receive proper vaccines.
Myth #4: Vaccines Cause Autism
Many studies have already shown that vaccines do not cause autism. The fear-mongering sparked after a study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield linked autism with vaccines.
However, the study was later debunked and his license was revoked after his co-authors admitted that the data were falsified. Wakefield worked under unsafe conditions, that is, his main research was carried out in a heavily infected laboratory, which not only could, but most definitely did compromise his samples.
What's more, Wakefield refuses to replicate his findings and that is a big no-no in the scientific community. To put it simply, for a result to be considered correct and verifiable, it must be tested more than once and must either support or falsify the initial findings. The replication must be done to ensure a result is not just a coincidence, but the result of careful research.
Wakefield refused to replicate his experiments, but did not retract his findings. For some, it may seem like he's a martyr, but for a community that relies on facts, Wakefield's refusal is a glaring sign that he's hiding something.
What could he possibly hide? The fact that confidential documents were uncovered showing he filed a patent for an alternative vaccine as well as a list of companies he would or have proposed it to.
Fact: The Vaccine Injury Court Exists
Yes, it does exist and it is under the United States Court of Special Claims, but it doesn't prove anything. Why so? For one, it works mainly as the first step to settling claims by petitioners against companies and this is mainly to ensure that legal claims do not drive up the cost of vaccines.
Neither the pharmaceutical companies nor the government is giving away hush money to petitioners because the VIC exists to resolve individual cases. That means it may also prove that a petitioner is filing a fraudulent claim or the injury may have been caused by a disregard for safety instructions, whether of the administering physician/nurse or the vaccinated individual.
An example of this would be if a physician or nurse was sloppy during the vaccination and the needle hit a different nerve. Else, it could be the individual who removed a bandage too soon and ended up with an infection because the vaccinated area was exposed to harmful elements.
How Can The Issue Be Resolved?
A discussion between open-minded medical experts and anti-vaccination individuals is necessary. Of course, it's not that easy.
It's never easy to just suddenly be open-minded about your opponent's arguments, especially if you've believed in something for so long, but a discussion among open-minded people is a good first step. The core of the issue is autism, and until scientists discover the actual cause of autism, the argument will continue. It may continue even after that.
In the end, both sides must just remember that nothing is absolute and a hundred diagnosis of autism cases post-vaccination doesn't mean that the vaccine is a cause. Likewise, a thousand cases of successful vaccinations that did not result in autism is not an absolute answer.
The immune system is not the same for everyone, just as much as not everyone is susceptible to one type of disease. One person will die from early onset of influenza, another can contract a more dangerous disease and still survive.
Perhaps it is in this difference that both AVM and science can focus the discussion on. Perhaps, as Jenny McCarthy claims, the family history should also be taken into consideration. Either way, the argument continues.
Photo: CDC Global | Flickr