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Breaking Down the Vaccination Debate

April 24, 2019 • • General Health

The anti-vaccination movement is growing in popularity, but science shows that vaccines do far more good than harm.

In early March, some 300 children in Bologna, Italy, were barred from attending kindergarten because they were missing at least one of the ten vaccinations Italian law requires public schoolchildren to receive. Though the United States has no federal vaccination law, the Italian decision was preceded by a similar ban in Brooklyn, New York, that went into effect in December 2018 after 39 cases of measles were confirmed in the area.

These bans have come as the result of a drop in vaccination rates as conflicting information and frightening rumors have become part of the national — and international — discourse around vaccines. Over the last two decades, a growing number of people have started spreading misinformation about vaccines, so it’s understandable why some parents would be hesitant to vaccinate their children.

However, the alternative — the return of diseases like measles, mumps, and whooping cough — is far scarier. Here’s how the anti-vaccination movement got its start, and why its claims are baseless and unfounded.

Anti-Vaccination Mythbusters

The anti-vaccination, or “anti-vax,” movement has its roots in a 1997 study published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. The study was written by a British surgeon named Andrew Wakefield, and claimed that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was increasing autism in British children.

In the decades since its publication, the paper has been discredited. As it turned out, Wakefield’s study included serious procedural errors, undisclosed financial conflicts of interest, and even ethical violations. As a result, his medical license was revoked and the paper was retracted. Since then, several other studies have probed the relationship between autism and vaccines, finding no concrete connection between the two.

Unfortunately, Wakefield’s hypothesis was taken very seriously by certain political figures and celebrities, and the myth has persisted. “Anti-vax” activists have also adopted several other scientifically unfounded talking points, including that vaccines contain unsafe toxins, that they’re not “worth the risk,” and that they can infect children with exactly the disease they’re trying to prevent.

Though vaccines do contain trace amounts of chemicals like formaldehyde, mercury, and aluminum, they simply aren’t significant enough to be harmful. In fact, the human body produces far more formaldehyde than is present in vaccines.

What’s more, there has never been a single credible study linking vaccines and long-term health conditions, and serious health scares or deaths from allergic reactions to vaccines are so rare that they can’t even be calculated accurately — it’s estimated that there is roughly one severe allergic reaction for every one to two million injections.

At the end of the day, doctors recommend vaccines to avoid the potential risks that infectious disease brings. Even with modern medicine, vaccine-preventable illnesses like measles or whooping cough can be life-threatening, or result in serious long-term health complications. Vaccines are a safe, easy, and proven way to protect your children from harm.

Parents’ Responsibility to Vaccinate

Not only are vaccines safe — they’re far safer than the alternative. Some parents believe that, thanks to “herd immunity,” their child can avoid the perceived risk of vaccination while also staying safe from the diseases vaccines are meant to prevent. This theory hinges on the idea that, with enough people vaccinated, even the unvaccinated minority will be safe.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that, especially as international travel grows more common, diseases that may not seem to be threats can actually spread very quickly, especially among unvaccinated individuals. In fact, that’s how measles spread in Brooklyn in late 2018; one unvaccinated child brought the illness back after a trip to Israel, and it spread rapidly throughout their community.

We understand that you want the best for your children, and don’t want to expose them to anything that might cause undue harm. Fortunately, vaccines are safe, proven effective, and an easy way to prevent infectious disease. If you’re still hesitant about getting your child vaccinated, feel free to set up an appointment with a pediatrician at Kids’ Health. We’re dedicated to keeping your child safe, happy, and healthy, and we’re happy to discuss any fears you may have about vaccine safety.