According to the PBS Frontline video The Vaccine War, the number of young parents who are withholding vaccinating their children has increased dramatically in the past several years (Palfreman). However, studies have shown that vaccines are beneficial and prevent the spread of disease (Smallpox). Studies have also shown that avoiding vaccines can lead to outbreaks (Matt). The benefits of getting vaccinated outweigh the risks of not vaccinating. Since the inception of the vaccine, the number of diseases that can be prevented has been reduced by 90% (Vaccines). Therefore, despite suggestions and claims that vaccinations cause issues and should be avoided, it is beneficial to individuals and society as a whole that all people should be vaccinated as recommended by supporting data.
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The website The History of Vaccines, an educational resource by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, says that the earliest known vaccine was developed in China in 1661 when Emperor K’ang His had smallpox as a child. He had his children inoculated by grinding smallpox scabs and inhaling the dust or by scratching the skin and applying the smallpox scab matter into the scratched skin. This insertion of the live smallpox matter into an otherwise healthy individual is termed as variolation (Timelines). Eventually, the process spread across the globe as people showed signs of not getting sick from smallpox (Timelines). The History of Vaccines goes on to state that in 1738, in Charleston South Carolina, 441 people were variolated with smallpox of which 4% died (Timelines). Due to the positive results with variolation, further use and research of variolation was supported and therefore led to the development of vaccines (Timelines). After many other experiments, vaccination became the more widely accepted and used procedure and replaced the use of variolation (Smallpox). In England 1820, the London Bills of Mortality documented 7858 deaths from smallpox, down from 18,447 deaths in the last decade before vaccination began (1791 – 1800) (Timelines). Great strides continued through the 19th and 20th centuries and into the 21st century when on May 8, 1980, the World Health Organization declared smallpox to be eradicated from the world (Smallpox). Therefore, when reviewing the history of why vaccines started, and the ability to completely eradicate a disease from the world, it is easy to see why all people should be vaccinated.
Vaccines are beneficial and prevent the spread of disease. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, the recommended immunization schedule lists 15 vaccine-preventable diseases that have the potential to eventually be eradicated. In addition, according to Gary S. Marshall in The Vaccine Handbook: A Practical Guide for Clinicians: the Purple Book, vaccines are also beneficial in preventing the spread of disease in two ways. First they stimulate the immunity in vaccinated individuals, and secondly, they help curtail the spread of disease by a concept known as “herd immunity” (Marshall 40). This means that if someone were to get sick in the community, there would be enough members of the community who are immune from the disease to prevent it from spreading to those in the community who are not immune to the disease. Vaccination programs progress from control of the disease to elimination of the disease and, finally, to eradication (Marshall 44). In addition to smallpox, polio, measles, and rubella have been eliminated in the United States (Marshall 45). However, these diseases have not been eliminated from other countries, and therefore can still come into the United States (Marshall 45). Therefore, all children should be vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases beginning at birth to ensure protection for them and those around them.
Avoiding vaccines can lead to outbreaks. There have been many recent outbreaks of vaccine-treatable diseases. There were 5 outbreaks of measles in the United States from January 1 – April 24, 2015. The 166 cases that originated in California revealed that 45% were unvaccinated (Brady). There are many reasons why an individual would avoid being vaccinated. Perhaps they fear the needle. Or perhaps they cannot afford to be vaccinated. But those reasons apply to adults who can make the decision to get vaccinated or not to get vaccinated for themselves. Parents are the ones that are making the decision for their children to get vaccinated or not to get vaccinated. The number of parents making the decision to abstain their children from the vaccination process is growing (McKee). There are four main reasons that parents are citing for their reasons not to have their children vaccinated, religious, personal beliefs or philosophical reasons, safety concerns, and a desire for more information from their healthcare providers (McKee). Religious reasons are the most common reason for parents to refuse to vaccinate their children, and those who choose this reason are more likely to refuse all vaccines completely (McKee). The next common reason that parents choose to refuse to vaccinate their children is for personal beliefs or philosophical reasons. They see a benefit in their children getting the disease and building up their immunity fighting off the disease naturally (McKee). Other parents believe that the diseases aren’t common and their child would have a minimal chance of getting the disease and many parents also think that these diseases are not as life-threatening as they once were or if their child did contract the disease that it would be easily treatable (Edwards). The third and most concerning reason that parents are refusing to vaccinate their children is the concern over the safety of the vaccines (Edwards). There is a lot of misinformation on the internet regarding the safety of vaccines (Edwards). Parents are busy and don’t have time to check out the information they are reading on the internet, like if its current, relevant, an authoritative source, accurate information, or what was the purpose the author had intended for the information. The information touted by other people and the media often lead parents to make decisions based on feelings rather than facts. The media has purported the dangers of Thimerosal, but that ingredient has been removed from vaccines for children under the age of six for over a decade (McKee). Lastly, parents want to make informed decisions regarding their children’s healthcare concerns (McKee). They need to have a trusting relationship with their doctors, and want to be educated about the risks and side effects of getting vaccines and of abstaining from the vaccines (McKee). Pharmacists and healthcare providers can play a vital role in providing unbiased and factual information about vaccines as well as providing information regarding legitimate and educational websites such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics (McKee). Even though people have their reasons for not vaccinating the children, people need to make sure that the children are vaccinated to avoid unintentional outbreaks which could harm the children and society as a whole.
Some people say that the benefits of vaccinating outweigh the risks and there are others that say that the risks outweigh the benefits. There are some people that feel that the major risk is that vaccines cause autism in children (Allen). The vaccine theory for autism is that autism is a product of vaccine damage (Allen). Some blame the MMR vaccine, or the DTP vaccine, or Thimerosal (preservative in vaccines that contain ethyl mercury), and others blame vaccines in general (Allen). Some opponents and oppositional websites claim that vaccines cause a number of ailments, even the CDC states that all vaccines carry a risk of anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, in about one in a million children (Vaccines). Other problems that have been attributed to vaccines are that the Rotavirus vaccine could cause intussusception, a type of bowel blockage, in one in twenty thousand babies (Vaccines). Long-term seizures, coma, lowered consciousness and brain damage may be associated with DTP and MMR. Pneumonia can be caused by the chicken pox vaccine (Vaccines). There are benefits as well as risks for vaccines. One main benefit would be the eradication of the disease that the vaccine was developed for. Two hundred years after the inception of the smallpox vaccine the World Health Organization declared smallpox as eradicated (Smallpox). The United States declared measles as eradicated in 2000 (Matt). Polio has been nearly eradicated, diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, and Hib have all decreased by 99% by 2012 because of vaccinations (Vaccines). When Benjamin Franklin’s son died on November 21, 1736, due to smallpox, he said, “I long regretted that I had not given it (smallpox) to him by inoculation, which I mention for the sake of parents, who omit that operation on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way and that therefore the safer should be chosen” (History). The United Kingdom Vaccination Act of 1853 made the smallpox vaccination mandatory in the first three months of an infant’s life. If the parents did not follow through with the mandate they were fined or imprisoned (History). The benefits of vaccinating were just as important in the 18th and 19th centuries as it is today.
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Most available drugs cause side effects – ranging from mild to life-threatening (Myers 24). People will tolerate those side effects if they can expect a benefit (Myers 24). So despite suggestions and claims that vaccinations cause issues and should be avoided, it is beneficial to individuals and society as a whole that all people should be vaccinated as recommended.
- Allen, Arthur. Vaccine: the Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver. W.W. Norton, 2007.
- Brady, Mark P. “Reemergence of 5 Vaccine-Preventable Diseases.” Medscape Drugs & Diseases, WebMD, 14 May 2015, reference.medscape.com/features/slideshow/vaccine-preventable-diseases#page=4.
- Edwards, Kathryn M., and Jesse M. Hackell. “Countering Vaccine Hesitancy.” Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 Sept. 2016, pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/3/e20162146.
- Franklin, Benjamin, and William Heberden. Some Account of the Success of Inoculation for the Small-Pox in England and America Together with Plain Instructions by Which Any Persons May Be Enabled to Perform the Operation and Conduct the Patient through the Distemper. London: W. Strahan, 1759.
- Marshall, Gary S. The Vaccine Handbook: A Practical Guide for Clinicians: the Purple Book. Professional Communications, 2010.
- Matt, Lianna. “Study Relates Vaccine Refusal to Rise in Measles, Pertussis.” CIDRAP, University of Minnesota, 21 Mar. 2016, www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2016/03/study-relates-vaccine-refusal-rise-measles-pertussis.
- Mckee, Chephra, and Kristin Bohannon. “Exploring the Reasons behind Parental Refusal of Vaccines.” The Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics, vol. 21, no. 2, 2016, pp. 104–109., doi:10.5863/1551-6776-21.2.104.
- Myers, Martin G., and Diego Pineda. Do Vaccines Cause That?: a Guide for Evaluating Vaccine Safety Concerns. Immunizations for Public Health (i4ph), 2008.
- Palfreman, Jon and Kate McMahon, directors. The Vaccine War. PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/vaccines/.
- “Smallpox.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Aug. 2016, www.cdc.gov/smallpox/history/history.html.
- “Timelines Overview.” History of Vaccines, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, www.historyofvaccines.org/timeline/all.
- “Vaccines ProCon.org.” ProConorg Headlines, ProCon.org, 23 July 2018, vaccines.procon.org/.
- “Vaccines Your Child Needs.” HealthyChildren.org, American Academy of Pediatrics, 24 July 2018, www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/immunizations/Pages/Vaccines-Your-Child-Needs.aspx.
- “Year in Review: Measles Linked to Disneyland.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 Dec. 2015, blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2015/12/year-in-review-measles-linked-to-disneyland/.
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