Vaccines: Life Savers

Any parent is familiar with the idea of vaccinations and there is a strong divide on those who are for and against immunization. You will find very few if any people in the middle of this argument.These polarizing view points have been the center of many debates and protests over the years. Personally, I find that like many arguments (evolution, climate change ect…) the problem is found in half truths, outdated information and straight up lies. While you may have heard something you thought was from a reliable source, it may not be as true as you thought.

There are a few reasons parents say no to vaccination. Some think that vaccines can cause developmental problems, others are scared the very vaccine meant to protect will infect, some claim that if the vaccines worked we wouldn’t need them any more, and still other claim they are a form of government mind control….I’m not even going to cover that last one…

First, lets quickly go over how vaccinations work. Our bodies are able to keep a record of viral threats. When they enter the body, our immune system creates anti-bodies which are used to destroy these diseases. Afterwards, our immune system remembers those anti-bodies and uses them to instantly destroy the virus if it’s detected again before it can cause any damage. That’s why you can only get chicken pox once. Simply put, a vaccine is a very small dose of an either weaken, or dead disease put into our bodies so they can easily create the necessary anti-bodies in a controlled manner. The result is a long lasting, if not life long, immunity to the specific virus.

In 1998 The Lancet, a medical journal, published a research paper by Dr. Andrew Wakefield which showed a direct link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) combined vaccine and the onset of autism. The world broke out in hysteria. The media urged parents to avoid vaccines. Inoculations which were once thought to be a world changing medical breakthrough, suddenly were work of the devil!There was one problem though. The paper was a lie. The evidence was falsified to support the claims. There was no link what so ever shown between vaccines and autism. The Lancet retracted the paper and issued a public apology. Wakefield was not only removed from the UK medical register and banned from practicing medicine in the UK but found guilty of three dozen charges which included four counts of dishonesty and 12 counts involving the abuse of developmentally challenged children. Every study since then has conclusively shown that developmental disorder rates are the exact same in children both vaccinated and non vaccinated. Autism typical starts to show around the same time vaccines are given, but they are not related.

Sadly for our world, the later findings did not receive anywhere near the same media attention that the original paper did. For that reason many people still believe the lies which were originally published. It’s true that rates of developmental problems are on the rise. However there is a much simpler explanation for it than what most people think. Before modern medicine, a lot of babies who would have be born with developmental, or any kind of disability for that matter, would be miscarried. It’s a natural evolutionary response when something is wrong. Today, we are able to save more and more of these pregnancies which run into complications. On top of that, as there has been more research, more issues are being identified or redefined as a “developmental disorder”. Between more live births and more people being included, of course numbers are going to rise. Don’t be so quick to blame things like modern medicine before looking to the obvious.

Another concern many parents have is that the vaccine will backfire and end up infecting their child with what it’s supposed to protect against. While there is some validity to this concern, it’s highly exaggerated and the benefits far outweigh the risk. When they first came around, vaccines used weaken, but live samples of viruses. This meant that there was a risk the virus would still reproduce and cause illness. Today most vaccines used dead samples. While they are slightly less effective, they are also slightly less risky. However, even those which do use live samples posed very little actual threat. In the case of polio, about 1 in 2.4 million people vaccinated became ill. A small number, but that is the reason the live vaccine for polio was phased out. Those which do still use a live vaccine have extremely small numbers of infection as well, and in most of those few cases they cause nothing more than some minor illness or a rash. It would be foolish to say there is no risk, but the tiny risk there is, is nothing compared to letting a full blown disease run rampant around our population.

“But if these vaccines are so effective, why do we need them anymore at all? They must obviously not work.” There are three things which allow diseases such as polio to persist. First of all, not the whole world has access to all these vaccines. Though many people try, it is very hard to get them to a lot of third world countries. And when they do arrive, there is usually not enough for everyone. So while they help control, these viruses are able to live on in the people who can’t be vaccinated. Secondly,  it takes time! The world is a big place and we can’t expect to have everyone immunized as soon as the vaccine is developed. It goes hand in hand with the last point of not having the resources. Finally we the most important and controllable one. People willingly choosing not to vaccinate. Living in the first world, we have easy access to these things. Yet people still choose not to take advantage of them. All it takes is one infected person to be near someone who was never immunized and that virus will live on. The more people who aren’t protected against it, the more chance it has to survive. And don’t think that you’re safe because everyone else in this country is [ideally] vaccinated. There is a constant flow of people in and our of our borders interacting with people all over the globe. Plenty of opportunity for a virus to sneak it’s way in.

But lets not get down about this. It’s not like we’re fighting a losing battle. On Dec 9, 1979, an international commission of smallpox clinicians and medical scientists declared that we had officially eradicated the smallpox virus through immunization. Think about that…we as a species have an incredible capacity for destruction. We see it all around us every day in war, the environment and even social interaction. But for once we were able to point that in the right direction and eliminate one of the biggest threats to our lives across the entire world! (There is still a sample of smallpox being kept which is highly controversial, but unrelated to vaccines). As well, we’ve eliminated a livestock virus known as rinderpest through vaccines, and though not completely out of the way, many other major diseases such as polio and malaria are on the brink of destruction thanks to immunizations.

If you are one who is against vaccines for any reason, I encourage you, I beg you, look more into it. Think critically about what you’re reading and it’s source. Look into multiple sources. I promise you, vaccines are  good thing for our species. They may not solve all the world problems on their own, but they can be a tipping point for our world to a better future. However for them to work, they need to be put to use in as many people as possible. Please, get your self and your children vaccinated.

 

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