Monday, January 9, 2012

Why you should Vaccinate your Kids

A young girl being vaccinated for typhoid in 1944.

Giving an oral polio vaccine
Today, doctors advise that children are vaccinated against numerous diseases. According to the CDC, in 2011 by the age of six years all children should have been vaccinated against Hepatitis B (HepB) and A (HepA), Rotavirus (RV), Diptheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (together as DTaP), Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), Pneumococcal disease (PCV), Polio (IPV), Influenza (strain changes yearly), Measles, Mumps, Rubella (together as MMR), and Vericella. Many of these are series vaccinations, requiring a series of shots over a specified period of time. Others should be done annually, such as influenza. That's not all, either, as vaccinations continue on even into adulthood. Also, catch-up vaccines are suggested for many diseases if someone had not previously received them. People in certain lines of work may be required to have extra vaccines, such as a rabies vaccine for people working with animals. Vaccinations are also often a requirement when traveling abroad, where other diseases are more common or where health standards may be quite different from here.

A smallpox vaccination kit, including the famous forked needle. The smallpox vaccine is derived from the far milder virus that shares many of the same characteristics: cowpox.
Through the use of vaccination, some amazing feats have been achieved. Smallpox has been eradicated and now only exists in laboratory samples kept under lock and key. The vaccination is no longer given to everyone as it once was, but is only given as a precaution to members of the military and people who hold certain other positions. Polio, which once lead to the paralysis of numerous children, is basically a thing of the past. The incidence of many more diseases, such a measles, have dropped significantly and may only be rarely seen. People who have been vaccinated will rarely, if ever, contract the disease they have been vaccinated against.

One of the common trends in modern society has been to not vaccinate, mainly due to the assumption that vaccinations have lead to complications, up to and including autism. It is true that some vaccinations carry certain risks, such as some of the potential problems associated with the vaccine for chicken pox (Vericella). Minor symptoms such as redness, swelling, soreness, itching, mild to moderate fever, and others can and will occur rather commonly. However, vaccines are overall incredible safe with serious reactions only happening at frequencies of one in every one hundred thousand (that's 100,000) people or even rarer. For most vaccinations, incidence of severe reactions are one in a million or rarer. To put that in perspective, there are over three hundred million (300,000,000) people in the United States. Of those, only about three thousand (3,000) will have a severe side affect to a vaccine where severe reactions happen once in ever hundred thousand people vaccinated. That's really very good odds, considering the alternative of placing your child at risk of contracting diseases that may potentially kill them, such as whooping cough (Pertussis).

When compared to the risk of severe reaction of a vaccine, the risk of very serious disease or complications are much higher. For example, rubella (also known as German measles) causes dangerous brain infection in one out of every six thousand adults infected, and pregnant women who develop the disease will often loose their baby, or have it be born with serious birth defects. In contrast, severe reactions to the MMR vaccine only occur at most in four of every one million people vaccinated.

An autism sign: obsessiveness
Lately, one of the largest arguments against vaccination is autism. There are many people out there, including some celebrities, who believe vaccinations (usually MMR) are responsible for autism. Many of these people are parents of an autistic child. In fact, that theory simply does not hold water. Only a single study was every published that implied such a link (Wakefield et al, 1998), but the theory on a autism-MMR link is based on flawed methods and has since been retracted. It has also since been disproved on numerous occasions by further scientific reviews. It is true that often a child will begin to show signs of autism about the same time that they receive their MMR vaccine. Children in the United States today usually receive their MMR between the ages of one and two. Autistic children are usually diagnosed before the age of three, and signs can appear as early as six months. Also, it is not unusual for an autistic child to appear normal for quite some time and then appear to regress. Since there is a correlation between the age at which autism is identified and the age at which a child will receive certain vaccines, it can be seen why an assumption can be made that autism was caused by the vaccine. However, as any scientist or statistician will tell you, correlation does not imply causation. So, even though a link may appear to be present, that doesn't necessarily mean that the link exists.

So, let's look at these facts again: vaccinations prevent children and adults from contracting very serious illnesses. Severe reactions to the vaccines are rare, and these rates are better than the risks of the disease that is being vaccinated against. If you think about it, it really is a much better idea to vaccinate than to go without. If you refuse, you kid could get polio, hepatitis, or so many other serious diseases if they come in contact with an infected person and then you'll be regretting the decision for the rest of your life.

Main source is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Vaccines and Immunizations portal. Other sources are the New York Times, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Brian Deer, Exceptional Learners: An Introduction to Special Education, and Vaccinate your Baby. Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are under a Creative Commons license or are copyright free: one, two, three, four.


  1. Nice post! Thank you for taking the time to do this, I found it to be a good read.

    I have seen a couple studies done in other countries that further disprove the autism-vaccine link, but you know how Americans are... If it's not done in America, then it doesn't count.

  2. Very well presented. I have a friend with an autistic child and I can't believe the cruelty of people who try to tell her that she caused the condition by vaccinating him or some other nonsense. But unfortunately there is no vaccination for stupid.

  3. Losech, indeed. I actually quite like articles that were published in other countries, especially since some of the rarer topics may not often be discussed in the U.S, but may be of serious concern in other areas. The only issue is sometimes finding an English translation, since translating it using an online translator is often incredibly unreliable.

    Jan, I agree. Unfortunately, there are far too many people who automatically believe whatever they are told and don't check sources. Even news groups can be incredibly unreliable, but I'm not going to get into that. When it comes to this debate, I was skeptical as soon as I heard about the rumored link, but I didn't believe one way or the other until I found out a lot more information on the subject. Things like this shouldn't be thrown around. Children's lives may very well be at stake, since many of the diseases that we vaccinate against can maim or kill.