ccines smallpox vaccine was invented as early
ccines have been used to prevent diseasesfor centuries, and have saved countless lives of children and adults. Thesmallpox vaccine was invented as early as 1796, and since then the use ofvaccines has continued to protect us from countless life threatening diseasessuch as polio, measles, and pertussis.
The Center for Disease Control andPrevention (2010) assures that vaccines are extensively tested by scientist tomake sure they are effective and safe, and must receive the approval of theFood and Drug Administration before being used. “Perhaps the greatest successstory in public health is the reduction of infectious diseases due to the useof vaccines” (CDC, 2010). Routine immunization has eliminated smallpox from theglobe and led to the near removal of wild polio virus. Vaccines have reducedsome preventable infectious diseases to an all-time low, and now few peopleexperience the devastating effects of measles, pertussis, and other illnesses. Despite all the testing and approvalprocess of vaccines, many people still mistakenly believe that vaccines causeautism, even in light of research that has disproven the notion. This evidencesthe difficulty of dispelling false statements once someone has accepted afalsehood, especially if it has scientific research backing the results.
Italso highlights the gullibility of the public at large to believe anything thatmedical research reports without questioning the findings. Unfortunately, themedia attention such examples of junk science receive aids in convincing manyof its truthfulness. The hype surrounding the belief that vaccines cause autismbegan in 1998 when Andrew Wakefield in the UK published an article in theLancet linking the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to cases of autismin children.
This claim gained a lot of momentum and quickly spread all overthe world. This led to the support of various unproven vaccine-autism theoriesby parents in both the UK and America. After findings of intestinal disease inchildren with autism, Wakefield claimed that separating the MMR into threedifferent vaccinations would be safer. Since then, Wakefield’s research hasbeen discredited, he was charged with serious professional misconduct by theGeneral Medical Council for violating several ethical practices, and he wasinvestigated for failing to disclose conflict of interest – a pending patent ona rival measles vaccine (Gross, 2009). Although false, many still believe wholeheartedlythat vaccines are harmful.In the 1998 article in the Lancet, Wakefield studied 12children “who, after a period of apparent normality, lost acquired skills,including communication” (Wakefield, Murch, Anthony, Linnell, Casson, Malik,Berelowitz, Dhillon, Thomson, Harvey, Valentine, Davies, -Smith,1998). All 12 children were reported to show behavioral symptomsafter receiving the vaccination.
After receiving the vaccination, the featuresassociated with exposure collectively included fever/delirium, rash,self-injury, repetitive behavior, loss of self-help, convulsion, gazeavoidance, diarrhea, disinterest, lack of play, vomiting, and recurrent viralpneumonia. In 8 of the 12 children, the beginning of behavioral problems waslinked to the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination by either the parents orby the child’s physician. They performed extensive testing on the 12 children,which consisted of colonoscopies, cerebral magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI),electroencephalography (EEG) including visual, brain stem auditory, and sensoryevoked potentials, and lumbar punctures. Urinary and stool samples were alsoassessed as part of the laboratory investigation. The MRI scans, EEGs,cerebrospinal fluid profiles were normal, and the clinical examination showedthat none had neurological abnormalities. However, the colonoscopy resultsshowed intestinal pathological changes in the children.Based on these results, they state,”Intestinal and behavioural pathologies may have occurred together by chance,reflecting a selection bias in a self-referred group; however, the uniformityof the intestinal pathological changes and the fact that previous studies havefound intestinal dysfunction in children with autistic-spectrum disorders,suggests that the connection is real and reflects a unique disease process”(Wakefield, et al., 1998).
Although all 12 children show behavioral changes andsome symptoms that are similar to autism, the study claimed that they did notprove an association between the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination andautism. They also state that if there is a causal link between measles, mumps,and rubella vaccination and autism, a higher rate of autism could be expectedsince the introduction of the vaccine in the UK in 1988. However, they statethat there isn’t enough data to prove that there was a rising incidence ofautism. The paper concludes by stating that further investigation is needed toexamine the syndrome and its possible relation to the vaccine.Knowing that fears about the vaccine-autism claim wouldspread in the US, the CDC acted quickly and commissioned the Institute ofMedicine to convene a safety review panel in 2000. The panel was unable to finda causal relationship between the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine andautism. They also carried out further research on the safety of themercury-containing preservative thimerosal, which is used in the vaccine.Similarly the Institute of Medicine couldn’t find enough evidence to accept orreject a relationship between thimerosal and autism (Gross, 2009).
In 2003, TheCDC also released it’s findings on vaccine safety based on a study of 140,00children which concluded that there was no relationship between thimerosal andautism. By 2004, after reviewing hundreds of studies investigating a linkbetween vaccines and autism, the Institute of Medicine unanimously announced init’s final report that there was no causal relationship between the measles,mumps, and rubella vaccines and thimerosal or autism.Surprisingly, this evidence didn’t calm the tide ofdisbelief, but only gave rise to anti-vaccine activists who claimed that theInstitute of Medicine was riddled with conflict-of-interest agendas thatbrushed aside a generation of children. Notwithstanding all of the evidence,one in four Americans still believes that vaccines cause autism (Gross, 2009).Because of this lack of trust in vaccinations, the US saw the largest outbreakof measles in 2008, a disease that was declared eliminated in 2000, due todecreased rates of vaccinations (Ratzan, 2010). Mumps and whooping cough alsomade a comeback. By 2007, over 5,000 parents of children with autism had suedfor compensation.
One particular case in November of 2007 solidified beliefsthat vaccines cause autism. The Department of Health and Human Servicesacknowledged that vaccines had aggravated a preexisting disorder in a babygirl, which caused “regressive encephalopathy with features of autism spectrumdisorder” (Gross, 2009, p. 4). Activists went on to report that this was abreakthrough in showing that vaccines cause autism and several media outletsgave the story unnecessary attention.The impact of the vaccine-autism incidencehas fueled anti-vaccine theories, and even today parents are afraid ofvaccinating their children.
In a letter to parents, Raff (2014) calls outanti-vaccine activists, “They say that vaccines aren’t that effective atpreventing disease. But 3 million children’s lives are saved every year byvaccination, and 2 million die every year from vaccine-preventable illnesses”(Raff, 2014). Raff also addresses the fact that the MMR vaccine doesn’t causeautism, and that thimerosal doesn’t cause autism either, in fact it hasn’t beenused in most vaccines since 2001. Raff encourages parents to educate themselveson the issue and to read the scientific studies that have proved that vaccinesdon’t cause autism. The letter also points to the fact that Wakefield’s paperthat claimed a link between vaccines and autism has been withdrawn and hismedical licenses revoked.
It is clear that public health education campaignshave not been effective in dispelling parent’s concerns that vaccines causeautism.The study that linked the MMR vaccine toautism received extensive coverage from the media. Due to such widespreadcoverage, the public concluded that there must be some truth to the claims thatthe vaccine caused autism. Parents became unsure if vaccines were safe andconfusion on who to believe abounded. When the media tried to provide balancedcoverage of the debate by reported on both sides of the issue, it gavecredibility to both positions. We learn quickly that once the public’s mind ismade up, it’s hard to change it.
Clements and Ratzan (2002) suggest that theblame does not necessarily lie with the press itself, but in the process bywhich it works by giving huge incentives to create scandals or scares. Theyalso suggest that the media can be an extremely useful tool if used correctlyfor health education and promotion (Clements & Ratzan, 2002).The World Health Organization (2008) lists several benefitsof vaccinations. Firstly, eradication is a primary goal of all immunizationprograms; however, only smallpox has been eradicated to date. Eradicationrequires high levels of population immunity all over the world for a prolongedperiod of time. The World Health Organization reports that the next diseasetargeted for eradication is polio (Andre, Booy, Bock, Clemens, Datta, John, Lee& Lolekha, 2008).
Secondly, elimination of a disease locally is possiblewithout the eradication of a disease worldwide. In order for elimination to occurthe immunization of 95% of the population must occur through a two-dosevaccination program. The World Health Organization claims that mumps andmeasles can be eliminated by use of the MMR vaccine (Andre, et al., 2008).National programs help in the elimination and eradication of diseases. However,local elimination does not remove the possibility of reintroduction. Thirdly,vaccines protect individuals from mortality if administered before exposure toa disease. The World Health Organization states that vaccines prevent almost 6million deaths worldwide annually (Andre, et al.
, 2008). They also claim thatin the US, there has been a decrease in incidence by 99% for nine diseaseswhich vaccines have been commonly recommended. Fourthly, another benefit of theuse of vaccines is the protection of the unvaccinated population. A reductionin disease among unimmunized individuals in the community is called “herdprotection”. This occurs when a large enough proportion of a group is immune,and it reduces the spread of the infectious agent. Furthermore, immunizationcan also serve as cancer protection.
For example, chronic hepatitis B leads toliver cancer, and immunization against such illnesses can prevent associatedcancer. Additionally, immunization provides health-care and other savings forsociety. Preventing mortality and morbidity increases long-term cost savingsand potential growth. The World Health Organization states that the savingsfrom vaccines in 2003 were estimated to be around tens of billions of dollarsin savings. They also report that Malaria costs Africa about $100 billion worthof lost annual gross domestic product. Added savings are seen when combinationvaccines are used.
Finally, vaccines can increase life expectancy by protectingagainst diseases. “Elderly individuals given influenza vaccine in the USA hadapproximately 20% less chance of suffering cardiovascular and cerebrovasculardisease and 50% lower risk of mortality from all causes compared to theirunvaccinated counterparts” (Andre, et al., 2008).Based on all the above stated benefits of vaccination, alongwith the scientific research that demonstrated the health and safety ofimmunizations, one would seem silly not to choose to vaccinate themselves andtheir children.
If there is so much concern about the unproven harm ofvaccinations and their alleged link to autism, there should be much more hypesurrounding the proven benefits of vaccinations. Unfortunately, a majority ofthe public is not educated on the topic of vaccinations, and consequently, theylisten and believe what the media covers and what vocal, anti-vaccine activistsprofess to know. When un-proven studies are publicized, such as Wakefield’svaccine-autism research, many use this as an opportunity to file lawsuits anddisplace their frustration. Regrettably, when further research proves the errorin the initial findings, the media pays no attention to evidence thatdiscredits false reports, and consequently, the majority of individualscontinue believing that there is truth to myths such as the link between autismand vaccines. There are enough problems and diseases in the world today tofurther these problems and illnesses because of ignorance. The eradication ofcommon diseases depends on a majority, if not all, of the population to vaccinateand protect against disease.
We must learn from history and trust scientificresearch in order to benefit as a global community.