The other day I managed to get in to a conversation with a few very lovely people on twitter while wading through several lectures on the subject of vaccines. One oddly enough on the controversy around them. I sat in our hour long lecture wondering what bloody controversy? I couldn't help but ask if I was the only person in my hundred and fifty strong clinical immunology class thinking why the hell we were taking the time to pander to the lunatics that claim vaccines are nothing but detrimental to your health! Its a blatant and utter lie. That simple. Nothing more than dangerous, malicious, down right dirty and scare scaremongering lies however, lets take a few moments to have a little indulgent look at it shall we?
I remember when the MMR vaccine controversy broke. Then Mr Andrew Wakefeild claimed to have found a causative relationship between Autism and the MMR vaccine. I remember it so clearly because I have myself Autistic relatives. My cousins are both severely autistic and I remember with so much detail my aunt sat in the kitchen with my mother clearly distressed. She felt as if it was her fault because all of her children had been immunised. Inevitably Mr Wakefeilds study was blasted as one of the worst done pieces of research by a scientist on the planet – I myself would use stronger words than that. Turns out just before the paper had been published in the well respected journal The Lancet he had filed a patent for single Measles vaccine. Not only that he had grossly violated ethics taking advantage of children with disabilities, failing to declare conflicts of interests and falsifying work. Arguably the whole affair might just be the most elaborate fraud in modern day science. You will of course be happy to know Mr Wakefeild was struck off the Medical Register in May 2010 and can now no longer practice medicine in the UK but is still causing trouble over the waters in America.
The effects were much more wide than just outrage in the scientific community, immunisation rates with MMR dropped form 93% to 73% and even as low as 50% in some parts of London. Even though it has been proven that MMR does not cause autism the idea is still there and an idea is even harder to eradicate than the disease itself. In 2008 measles was declared endemic in the UK as a direct result of a decade of low vaccination rates due to the scare. Paul Offit, a doctor at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia said, "that paper killed children.'' The worst part is I wholeheartedly agree.
It seems since then the vast piles of misinformation, lies, and dangerous claims by the anti-vaccination tin hatters seem to have propagated like wildfire. Oddly most of the reasons follow a similar pattern to the above, however not nearly as extreme or quite frankly in my personal opinion cruel but they haven't helped. The notion that giving children too many vaccines can overload the immune system and cause side effects has arisen even though all scientific evidence says otherwise. After all you deal with thousands and thousands of viruses every day, a vaccines is a splash in the ocean compared to what you breath in. Secondly vaccines do not over whelm the immune system. Thirdly even though we now vaccinate against more diseases than we did twenty years ago increased knowledge of the immune system as allowed us to create immune responses with lower vaccine dosages. Fourth all evidence shows that vaccines do not weaken the immune system and lastly and most importantly there is absolutely no evidence what so ever to show the immune system as a role in autism.
However the last point seems to have been completely ignored by the tin hatters. In 1999 the thiomersal controversy broke, groups claimed that the mercury based preservative used in some vaccines caused autism. The US government then ordered it to be removed from vaccines asap, on top of the much more prolific MMR controversy. Not only did it effect vaccination rates but also resulted in some parents attempting to treat their autistic children with “new therapies” off the back of the study that could have potentially been dangerous. Independent research, review of data and population studies rejected the correlation and showed there was no link between thiomersal used in vaccines and autism.
Am I the only one getting a sense of deja vu here?
Many vaccines also use adjuvants aka a vaccines best friend, which are chemicals that help prompt an immune response and enhance the protection that a vaccine can provide you with. Of course these were jumped on by said tin hatters as causing health problems that could screw you up in a number of ways that are longer than my arm. One adjuvant Aluminium was targeted, the truth is all the Aluminium that a child would be dosed with during all the vaccines they would receive though out their life is less than a bottle of formula and there is absolutely no evidence what so ever that Aluminium vaccines cause any problem what so ever.
The safety of vaccines have also become one of their prime target, yes they do cause side effects. Guess what having a needle shoved in your arm hurts of all of three seconds. You might have a little ache for a few hours. You might even feel a bit tired that night. Guess what, its better than getting the disease. There are some people who can not be immunised because of safety concerns, those who are allergic to an ingredient used in the vaccine, people who are immunodeficient and have certain disorders that centre around the immune system can not be vaccinated. For everyone else guess what. You're fine.
The fact that certain groups of the population can not be vaccinated makes keeping rates up even more important. Those who can not be vaccinated are protected by herd immunity which operates on the basis that the more people in the population who are resistant to an infection decreases the chances of someone who is susceptible to the infection coming in contact and therefore contracting said infection. Simple right. The threshold for this “herd immunity” varies between different infections however it generally is around 85% and upwards. Which leads us back to the massive problem that is the drop in vaccination rates thanks to the misinformation and wrong facts circulated by those in the anti vaccination camp.
Sadly the fact of the matter is not getting your child vaccinated or yourself with out a good medical reason that isn't based on hear say and lies isn't just dangerous to yourself but everyone else around you. It puts other people who rely on the herd immunity of a population to protect them. While many of these campaigns also bring up the topic of freedom of choice the truth is you are not a health professional! You do not have all the facts at your fingertips and I find it absolutely disgusting that these campaigns have lead to the resurgence of preventable disease that can be fatal and highly debilitating. The fact of the matter is by choosing to opt out under the disguise of freedom of choice you have put yourself and others in danger.
While I disagree on principal with everything these campaigns say, do and stand for I'm going to sit here behind my laptop screen and say I tried. I tried my damned best to find a shred of evidence to support the anti-vaccination campaigns and found nothing. All I found was that people have died from preventable diseases for no reason and a generation of mothers with autistic children have been left hurt and distressed as a direct result of their false science. So I'm going to put this as bluntly as I can; anti-vaccination propaganda is bullshit. There, I won't sugar coat it and I'm sure as hell not going to pander to it. Take your false science, dangerous and life threatening claims somewhere else and stop undoing the work of generations of scientists trying to prevent disease.
I will tell you this right now. When I have children, they will be vaccinated. End of story.