The Decision Not to Vaccinate Requires Heavy Deliberation

Aug 01, 2019

How do vaccines keep the general public healthy? If vaccines work, why do people get sick? Will vaccines give my child autism? These questions, as well as others, are heavily debated when it comes to immunizations and public safety. Many parents question if their kids should truly be vaccinated, and if the medicines do more harm than good. However, doctors and other medical experts urge patients to continue to stay updated on their shots.

Live Science, an online publication, describes vaccines as “a training course for the immune system.” In other words, vaccines prepare the immune system to fight off viruses without experiencing symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a healthy individual will fight off viruses and bacteria so efficiently that he or she may never know they were exposed to an infection. However, if the body is faced with a particularly strong antigen, such as the measles, the body’s immune response may not be fast enough to kill the virus before it spreads through a person’s system - making them sick and possibly leading to death, no matter how healthy they were before. 

The immune system takes days to rev up its defenses against an antigen as strong as the measles, rendering it too slow to be effective on its own. This is where vaccines come in. Vaccines are made from dead or weakened antigens. While they don’t cause infection in a healthy individual, the immune system still takes action to eliminate them from the body. As the immune system does its job, it creates memory cells. If the immune system was to face this antigen again, its memory cells would allow a much faster response, keep the individual healthy, and break the spread of that illness.

According to the CDC, some people cannot be vaccinated because they are too young, too old, pregnant or have an autoimmune disorder (such as lupus or type 1 diabetes) that renders their immune system too weak to respond to a vaccine. Additionally, some medications suppress the immune system, making it inadvisable to be vaccinated, while other individuals are simply allergic to certain vaccines. 

The CDC provides a comprehensive list of vaccines with suggested age requirements and potential allergy risks. Those with medical conditions and/or compromised immune systems depend on the health of the majority to keep from getting sick. This concept is known as herd immunity.

If enough people in a community get sick from the same virus, it could lead to what’s known as an outbreak. Left uncontained, an outbreak becomes an epidemic and affects communities outside the site of the initial spread. However, if enough people remain healthy, a crisis is averted.

This is why the utilization of vaccines is so heavily emphasized. Vaccines make it harder for viruses to spread from person to person. If a person does get sick, those who are immunized are less likely to succumb to the ailment. In turn, the potential for getting sick lessens for those who are unable to be vaccinated. Eventually, the outbreak dissipates, and it’s possible that the antigen is eradicated. This is the core of herd immunity, and it’s how devastating illnesses such as polio have become extinct in the United States.

One of the biggest concerns among parents is whether having their child vaccinated will put them at risk of developmental disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD or autism). According to Live Science, an unknown British scientist, named Andrew Wakefield, and his colleagues, published a paper in The Lancet that claimed a link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. The Lancet, once considered a respected medical journal, later retracted the study after finding that Wakefield hid and manipulated crucial data and was dishonest about his financial incentives for the research. It was also found that Wakefield ran unethical tests involving the children he studied, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Additionally, in 2004, 10 of the 12 authors of the report formally retracted their contributions. Regardless, its impact continues to persist. 

Some people believe vaccines cause autism. However, the NIH states there is no exact known cause of the disorder, and there is still much to learn. Additionally, as it exists on a spectrum, no two people with autism are totally alike. So far, the medical community has determined there are a culmination of causes, rather than a single, which include genetics and interferences with prenatal brain development.

Vaccines have proven to be a facet of modern medicine allowing people to live long and stay healthy. According to the CDC, for example, a rubella epidemic in 1964-1965 infected more than 12 million Americans, killed 2,000 infants and caused 11,000 miscarriages. Since 2012, the CDC has received just 15 reported cases of rubella. The difference is that the MMR vaccine exists today.

The choice to vaccinate is up to every adult. However, it is important to consider the entire body of factual evidence from unbiased sources. It’s also important to consider that the decision to get vaccinated not only affects that individual, but the immunocompromised people that individual encounters every day. One person may be strong enough to carry an infection, but the elderly person, pregnant woman or cancer patient may fall critically ill. These are serious realities to consider when deliberating the necessity of vaccines.

About the Writer

Tempest Wright

Contributing Writer

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