Vaccines are an extremely important aspect of modern medicine. They reduce mortality rates from many diseases and save a significant amount of money. Despite these obvious benefits, some people continue to oppose vaccines and refuse to vaccinate their children. In doing so, these individuals not only endanger their own children, but the lives of many others as well. Arguments against vaccines tend to center around the belief that vaccines contain dangerous chemicals that can cause health problems. Others argue that because of the success of vaccines, the diseases that vaccines were meant to prevent are no longer threats to our health. Credible research provides more than adequate evidence against both of these claims while also reaffirming the fact that vaccines are extremely beneficial to our health.
When people hear the list of unfamiliar chemicals included in a vaccine, they are understandably suspicious of what side effects they may have when injected into a child. The main components of vaccines that people fear are formaldehyde, thiomersal, and aluminum. Formaldehyde is most commonly known as a preservative used on cadavers, but that is not its only function. Our bodies naturally produce formaldehyde in amino acid metabolism. According to the FDA, the amount of formaldehyde present in vaccines is so dilute that it is negligible in comparison to the naturally occurring concentrations in our bodies. Many also believe that thiomersal, a mercury-based compound, causes autism. Thiomersal, however, was phased out of most vaccines in 1999 and all research indicates that it never caused autism in the first place. The symptoms of mercury poisoning – the health issue that thiomersal would likely cause – are not similar to autism. Last but not least, we are exposed to more aluminum through water and food every day than the amount present in a vaccine. Similarly, children are exposed to greater amounts of aluminum through both breast milk and formula than they are through vaccines.
The fear of vaccines causing health problems also stems from a controversial research paper that linked the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to greater risk of autism. The research paper, published in 1998, was found to have conflicts of interest and altered data, effectively rendering the paper fraudulent and useless as any indication of causation. Even so, people still cling to this paper as evidence that vaccines increase the risk of autism.
There are many religious arguments against vaccines, but, out of respect to religious individuals, I would rather not discuss those here.
In the past two decades, there have been many instances of widespread reduction in vaccinations. Each time, there was a drastic increase in a disease preventable through vaccination. In Sweden, a majority of the country’s children contracted pertussis after the suspension of the pertussis vaccination. In the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and Ireland, it was measles in the early 2000’s. Most recently, it was the United States facing an increase in measles outbreaks in 2013. Unsurprisingly, these outbreaks centered on regions where people refused vaccines. Looking at these outbreaks, it is easy to see that the diseases that vaccines target still pose threats to our health. Meanwhile, the prevalence and incidence of autism has not significantly shifted.
There are individuals who do suffer from serious side effects when they are vaccinated. This can be due to allergic reaction or other factors. If the majority of the population is vaccinated, however, we can protect these non-vaccinated individuals as well. It does not take a complicated research paper and countless statistical calculations to identify the fact that vaccines help more than hurt. We have the tools of modern medicine at our disposal, and we should utilize them to improve and maintain our population’s health.