Vaccines and the Great Debate
According to A Shot at Life, a partnering organization of The United Nations, vaccines prevent over 2.5 million children from contracting communicable diseases every year. That equals approximately 285 children per hour (Procon.org, 2018). Vaccinations save lives. Period. End of story. While some parents still cling to the misguided theory that vaccines can cause a range of medical afflictions or maladies, there simply is no scientific proof of this belief. It is difficult to believe that just over 200 years ago there was no cure for polio, measles or smallpox; diseases that are now stopped before they can even start.
Contrary to popular belief, through decades of scientific research and application, vaccinations have proven to save lives, prevent numerous diseases and illnesses, while hindering the widespread outbreaks, with little or no proven serious side effects. History of Vaccinations Diseases before Vaccines When we think of the word disease, we commonly think of Cancer, HIV, or AIDS, illnesses which have no cure. It wasn’t long ago, however, that list was comprised of diseases we would now not even consider. Smallpox. Polio. Even the measles. It’s been 200 years since the first successful vaccine was developed. While 200 years is a long time to most people, in medical terms, 200 years is a just a sliver of the lifespan of medical science, considering the Hippocratic Oath was written in the 5th Century B.C. Before vaccinations, smallpox and measles were overwhelmingly destructive diseases. The Centers for Disease Control reports 3 out of 10 people who contracted smallpox died (Centers, 2016).
Those who survived were left with large, pockmark scars, mostly on their face. Measles was equally devastating. In the first decade of tracking, there were an average of 6,000 measles-related deaths each year. (Centers, 2018) While the topic of vaccinations is considered to be a more modern day topic, an opposition of vaccines dates back to the early 1800s. Several groups on anti-vaccine proponents were formed throughout the United States and England. One such league, The Anti Vaccination Society of America, founded in 1879, fought vaccinations through the court system, the first vaccination mandate was issued in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1902. The fight against vaccinations was taken all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1905, the high court ruled in favor of the vaccination mandate for communicable diseases, thus thwarting the efforts of the anti-vaccination leagues.
First Vaccine Used Many diseases have been eradicated, while others have been greatly reduced since the use of vaccines began. Take smallpox for instance. Smallpox was the first and only human disease to be eliminated by the application of vaccine. Edward Jenner first tested his theory of preventing smallpox in 1796 by using matter from a cowpox sore to inoculate a person. Through Jenner’s efforts, combined with mass production and commercialization, a smallpox vaccine appeared on the medical horizon. The death rate of smallpox was approximately 30% before Jenner theory proved successful. The number of deaths from smallpox in the 20th Century is estimated at more than 300 million. After the creation and successful application of the smallpox vaccine began, the number of cases in the United States dropped dramatically. Extensive vaccination crusades throughout the 1960s and 1970s concluded with the last known case of wild smallpox in the world in 1977 (History, 2018).
After this date, the use of the smallpox vaccine was no longer considered medically necessary. Safety of Vaccinations Ingredients Vaccines, in general, are made with similar ingredients, with varying main ingredients based on the specific disease the vaccine targets. For instance, all vaccines will contain saline, sterile water and some kind of protein-based fluid as a base. Other base ingredients will also include preservatives and stabilizers, such as glycine. Where controversy comes into play are the other possible ingredients found in vaccines. Items such as formaldehyde, aluminum, and Thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative, are also present in vaccines. Although the levels of these items are in minuscule amounts, their presence stirs concern among anti-vaccinators. Those components have not been proven to add any risk to health or cause any harm. Side Effects As with any medication, side effects are always a possibility. And like all other medications, vaccines are rigorously tested for safety before being administered to the general public. Side effects of vaccines, however, are usually low-risk and considered non-life threatening. Some common, low risk side effects can include, fever, headache, upset stomach or diarrhea. The anti-vaccination community would have you believe the risks are much more severe, even life-threatening. This, however, is simply not true. According to the Center for Disease Control, the risk of a vaccine causing death or serious harm is very small (CDC, 2018). Fact vs Fiction Common Misconceptions
Probably the single biggest point of contention in the vaccination debate falls under what would be the Facts vs Fiction debate. The top misconception about vaccines is they can cause the disease they are supposed to vaccinate against. With an inactivated or dead virus, this is simply not possible. A dead bacteria or virus cannot cause disease. A live virus can cause mild symptoms of a disease to appear. For the actual disease to form is exceptionally rare. In fact, according to Carrillo-Marques only one case has occurred in all of vaccination history (Carrillo, 2013). A live, oral dose of a polio vaccine had the potential to mutate and cause the disease. This type is no longer used in the United States. The inactive version of the vaccine is now the preferred method. Another widely believed fallacy regarding vaccines is they can cause autism. This claim is categorically, undeniably untrue. Although this misguided belief has been present for many years, it started to gain widespread popularity around 2005. Parents of children with autism mistakenly believe the low levels of mercury in the Thimerosal preservative caused their children to develop autism. As David Gorski states in Mercury in vaccines as a cause of autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs): A failed hypothesis, The scientific data, taken in totality, do not support a link between mercury in vaccines and autism. (Gorski, 2007).
Adding fuel to the fire of misinformation, many celebrities have joined in the unproven belief that vaccines do cause autism. This, in turn, causes a bandwagon effect to spread across the country, causing many people to be convinced by the erroneous propaganda. Facts Supporting Vaccinations While many misconceptions about vaccines exist, there are far more facts supporting the need for childhood vaccinations. The Center for Disease Control advises the most effective way to avoid and control the spread of communicable diseases is through vaccination (Song, 2014). Many anti-vaccine groups believe vaccines are not safe or effective, therefore, should not be administered to children. This could not be farther from the truth. According to HealthChildren.org, a website supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, all vaccines must meet strict FDA guidelines for safety and standards of effectiveness (Healthy, 2018). Furthermore, the FDA will not issue a vaccine if those standards are not met. Although not all diseases are fatal, the symptoms can be just as destructive, which gives even more reason to vaccinate. The World Health Organization states vaccines save 6 million lives per year (World, 2018). It was reported by USA Today in October 2018, a child not vaccinated against the flu died from exposure to the virus (USA, 2013). While many vaccine deniers would have parents believe vaccines are not worth the risk, the unnecessary and completely avoidable death of a child proves otherwise. One simple shot could have saved the child’s life.
Economic Impact Big Pharma
Another fallacy spread by anti-vaccine supporters is vaccines are being pushed strictly for the financial gain of the pharmaceutical industry. In an article from TheAtlantic.com, an investigative website is quoted Many firms sold their vaccine divisions to concentrate on more profitable drugs.”, and referred to their vaccine profit margins as abysmal. This is obviously contradictory to the main point anti-vaccinators would like the public to believe. Stating these companies are in it just for the big profits is simply not true.
The discussion of profits can also lead to the topic of the real reason pharmaceutical companies produce vaccines. Those who don’t support the use of vaccines would lead others to believe the main goal of vaccine production is for large profits and earnings. An ABC News article about the facts and myths about vaccines refers to a statistic from VaccineEthis.org, which states vaccines account for only 1.5% of the total annual revenues (Atlantic, 2015). The article goes on to state the number of companies producing vaccines three decades ago was at thirty. Today, there are only five companies make up 80% of the vaccine market. If the production of vaccinations is as profitable as anti-vaccine supporters believe, then why have so many companies exited the market? Their claims just don’t add up. To say vaccines are a simple and inexpensive way to prevent illness is an understatement. As stated by the World Health Organization, There is arguably no single preventative health intervention more cost-effective than immunization. (World, 2018). The assumption that natural immunity is sufficient defense to fight off any illness is fictitious. Risk of complications can still arise. One illness can spread to another. For instance, if an unimmunized child were to contract the chicken pox and scratched the sores too much, it could potentially lead to the development of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), for which there is no vaccine, only post-contraction treatment. MRSA is an extremely stubborn, medication resistant form of staph (staphylococcus aureus) and can have a death rate of up to 50%. Illness Prevention Reduces Future Medical Costs
As previously stated, it is estimated vaccines save approximately six million lives per year worldwide (World, 2018). If those six million people were to become infected, the medical costs associated with treating those individuals would be staggering. It has been reported by the Centers for Disease Control that over 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths have been avoided by using vaccinations (Berkley, 2015). In 1994, $259 billion was saved in direct treatment costs (Berkley, 2015). Those costs today would be well in the trillions of dollars.
Another factor to consider in the overall cost of not vaccinating is the cost incurred by public health departments to fight outbreaks. These costs are referred to as societal or indirect costs. The price tag can be upwards of $10,000 per day for each outbreak. The average containment period for an outbreak is eighteen days, putting the cost per outbreak at $180,000 (Berkley, 2015). This overwhelming amount could be severely detrimental to smaller communities, which lack major medical funding. Again, in 1994, it was estimated that $1.8 trillion was saved in societal costs, all due to vaccines. The total money saved in today’s numbers would be mind boggling. It is a situation that is completely avoidable by simply getting vaccinated. Anti-vaccinators simply do not have any proof or valid statistics that can argue with these kinds of numbers. Conclusion
There are many opportunities people take for granted in the United States, with top-notch healthcare being one of them. There are third world countries on planet Earth that would benefit greatly from even the basic healthcare options offered in the United States. Children are at the mercy of their parents or guardians to ensure the proper start to their health is taken care of in the appropriate manner. Parents and guardians have a duty to protect their child from the easily avoidable illnesses, diseases and maladies that vaccinations guard against. It is unbelievable in this day in age for a child to not be protected. Vaccinations not only protect the child they are given to, but also protect any other person that child may come into contact with. To think a parent or guardian would not take the basic step to shield their child from completely preventable illnesses, is beyond comprehension. With the medical technology and scientific data readily available today, along with the knowledge of little to no side effects occurring from the vaccinations, no parent or guardian should withhold these life saving medications from any child, regardless of personal belief.