Immunization Debate: Do You Say Yes to Vaccines?

Immunization Awareness Month: Do You Say Yes to Vaccines?
Immunization Awareness Month: Do You Say Yes to Vaccines?
(credit: ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)

Immunization Awareness Month is upon us which means we wake up the sleeping beast: the debate for and against vaccination. There’s a lot of hot feeling on either side of the debate which is only natural. These are our children we’re talking about and their lives are in our hands. As parents, it’s our duty to protect them.

But just try and read through all the medical mumbo jumbo on the web. Most parents are not doctors. We just want to understand what it is we need to know about immunization to make the right decision, for or against.

And then of course there’s the problem of whose “facts” to believe. How can you, as a parent without medical training, know which facts about immunization are true? Is the decision to vaccinate your child going to come down to a crapshoot, or perhaps, a leap of faith (to one side or the other)?

Let’s take a look at the facts, and the pros and cons of immunization, dumbed down:

Fact: Immunization Recommended/Not A Law

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says children up to age six should be getting 28 doses of 10 vaccines. But that’s only a recommendation. There is no federal law that says children must be vaccinated. In other words, the medical establishment says you should vaccinate your child, but you won’t go to jail if you don’t.

Fact: Immunization A Must For Public School Kids With Few Exceptions

All 50 states require some vaccinations for children going to public school. Almost every state offers exemptions on the grounds of medical or religious issues while some state allow exemptions for philosophical reasons. In other words, if your religion forbids vaccination or your child has a medical problem which means he can’t be vaccinated, you can get out of vaccinating your child. If you are against immunization for other reasons, you may be able to get out of vaccinating your child, depending on where you live. You can check what laws apply in your state HERE.

Pro: Immunization Is Safe/Reactions Rare

Bad reactions to vaccines are very rare. Experts don’t have an exact statistic, but agree that the odds are very small of having a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a vaccine. Some say the number is one severe allergic reaction per every several hundred thousand vaccinations, while other experts say the chance of a bad reaction is one in one million vaccinations.

Con: Immunization Is Risky/Dangerous

Some kids do actually die as a result of getting vaccinated. While reactions to vaccines are rare, they do happen to an unfortunate few. Bad reactions to vaccines include seizures, paralysis, and even death.

Pro: Immunization Prevents Illness, Saves Lives

Those in favor of immunization say that vaccination is the greatest medical advancement of our time. Thanks to vaccination, smallpox, polio, diphtheria, rubella (German measles), and whooping cough have been wiped out, at least for now. These are diseases that have killed children in the past. Pro-immunization medical experts estimate that vaccines have saved millions of children’s lives.

Con: Immunization Unnecessary/Risk Not Worth Taking

Those against immunization say that a child’s immune system can fight against most diseases without any help from vaccines. They say that putting the substances of a vaccine into a child’s body can not only cause serious side effects but may be the trigger for a lot of the health problems and learning disabilities we see in children today, such as autism, diabetes, and ADHD.

Pro: Link Between Immunization And Autism Not Proven

Andrew Wakefield had a study published in 1998 in the Lancet, an important medical journal. The study showed a link between the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. As a result of the study, many parents stopped vaccinating their children. They feared their children would develop autism as the result of immunization.

Wakefield’s study was small. There were only 12 children studied. Eight of them supposedly developed symptoms of what Wakefield called “regressive autism” within days of receiving the shot. The problem was that no one could replicate Wakefield’s results, though they tried again and again.

The results of a study are accepted only after others repeat the study and gets the same results. That just didn’t happen with Wakefield’s study. By 2004, people were getting suspicious and a reporter began investigating. Finally, Wakefield was called before a review board and in 2010, was exposed as a complete fraud. The Lancet withdrew the paper saying their experts been deceived, and Wakefield lost his medical license.

Even though Wakefield was proven a fraud, parents continue to claim their children developed autism as a result of immunization. Other parents may not have heard that Wakefield was a phony. They continue to believe that the MMR vaccine causes autism. You will see plenty of web pages that continue to insist there is a link between autism and the MMR shot.

The Wakefield study is believed to be the reason for the Disneyland measles outbreak in California. Parents stopped vaccinating their kids after Wakefield’s study was published. They were scared  their children would develop autism.

While most parents in American vaccinated their children (at least until the Wakefield report), parents in poorer countries may not have had good medical care for their children. Children in those countries may be vulnerable to diseases like the measles, because they were not immunized. If a child with measles should come to visit Disneyland in America, and spends time with children who were not vaccinated, those children can get and spread the measles.

Some parents who stopped vaccinating their children because of the Wakefield report thought their children were safe from the measles, because vaccination had for the most part wiped out the disease in America. They thought: “Why vaccinate our children when there is no measles in America? Why risk autism or worse, when the disease has been mostly wiped out?”

The problem is, so many parents had this thought, that many American children ended up getting the measles as a result of contact with a tourist at Disneyland. The Disneyland outbreak brought more hot debate about immunization, both for and against. The media scrambled to cover it all.

One media story did a lot to explain how immunization works. The father of six year-old boy, Rhett Krawitt, asked school officials not to let kids come to school who were not vaccinated because of their families’ religious or personal beliefs. Rhett is getting over leukemia and it would be dangerous for him to get the measles vaccine. His system is too weak and the vaccine could make him actually get the measles. Because he is so weak, measles could be especially dangerous to him and might even kill him.

Since Rhett cannot be immunized, his parents feel it is dangerous for him to be around healthy children who have not been vaccinated. They fear that with the all the measles outbreaks, Rhett could be exposed to the measles from these children. It seems unfair to them that their child has to stay home from school because of parents who refuse to vaccinate their healthy children.

There are many other issues around the immunization debate. For instance, some people say that vaccines are unethical because some of the ingredients of the vaccines are animal byproducts, while other ingredients may cause cancer. Part of the debate on immunization has to do with government: should the government force people to get vaccinated or would that take away peoples’ basic freedoms.

A good website for reading more about the pros and cons of vaccination is the webpage on vaccination at ProCon.org.

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Author: Varda Epstein

Varda Meyers Epstein is a mother of 12, communications writer, and education blogger at the Kars4Kids blog.

One thought on “Immunization Debate: Do You Say Yes to Vaccines?”

  1. It’s good to learn all of the arguments for and against immunizations. It’s good to know that vaccines don’t actually cause autism. That was the only thing I was worried about, so now I think my kids need to be immunized, just in case.

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