Vaccines: The Facts, Risks, and Myths Associated with Modern Medicine

Although efficacy rates of the flu vaccine vary, health-care experts still strongly advise receiving an annual dose.

U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Areca T. Wilson

Although efficacy rates of the flu vaccine vary, health-care experts still strongly advise receiving an annual dose.

The rise of vegan and organic lifestyles has had a tremendous impact on the health of many Americans. Many are losing weight after swearing off processed foods, getting more energy, and working out to become healthier. Organic foods are better for the environment because they produce less waste, and because they are made without harmful chemicals and preservatives they don’t contaminate the Earth and wildlife.

Americans, however, have taken vegan lifestyles a little too far. Adults have been refusing to vaccinate their children. Some believe the misconception that vaccines and medications can cause autism, while some don’t vaccinate because the medicine isn’t organic or it was animal tested. Vaccines often include animal-derived products (an example of which is the chicken pox vaccines, Varivax, which contains fetal bovine serum). There is scientific evidence that debunks the autism conspiracy, and the morality of the anti-vaccinators can be called into question. Refusing to vaccinate your kids can have fatal results for the children while also reflecting the morality of the parents.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there is no correlation between autism and vaccinations. A 2013 CDC Study went in-depth and analyzed the number of antigens (foreign substances introduced to the body to induce an immune system response, building immunity to the toxin or disease) from vaccines in children two years old. The total amount of antigens received from the vaccines was not different with children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and without ASD. An Institute of Medicine (IOM) report found that MMR (Measles, rubella, mumps), hepatitis B, influenza, varicella zoster, and tetanus vaccinations can cause anaphylaxis.

While it is rare for someone to be allergic to an ingredient in an influenza shot, there are a few cases where someone receives the shot and has a reaction. A personal friend of mine is allergic to preservatives in flu shots. Preservatives are completely harmless (when injected in safe amounts) and they help prevent bacteria from forming. My friend has never been able to receive the flu shot because of this allergy. Consequently, they have had the flu almost every year. They rely strongly on the immunity of others to avoid contracting the virus. When fewer people have the flu, they are less likely to get it.

Skipping your annual flu shot creates an increased risk that you will get the flu, but that can also increase the risk for others. I have had every flu shot ever since I was over six months old and I have never had the flu, most likely because I have had the vaccines for a lot of strains of the virus. While personal anecdotes often do not hold any scientific value, it’s an example of how effective the influenza vaccine is for those not allergic.

The influenza vaccine is one of the most regularly-received vaccines, being recommended for once a year. Skipping this vaccine can have deadly consequences, even though it is fairly milder than many other diseases. The 2009 H1N1 strain of the flu (swine flu) was declared an epidemic by the CDC. At least 555 deaths were reported and over 8,000 were hospitalized. Last year, the H3H2 strain was also very dangerous. Flu season last year lead to 106.5 out of 100,000 people being hospitalized, according to a CDC study. It killed 165 people and infected over 30,000. The flu vaccine is only around 40-60 percent effective depending on the strain, but it is important to receive it regardless. The more vaccines you receive over the years, the more strains of the flu your immune system is trained to fight off. This is better protection from the potentially fatal influenza.

The flu vaccine is not what started the autism “debate.” The MMR vaccine has raised controversy over time as ASD symptoms tend to show around the time a child receives the vaccine. To shorten the elaborate scientific evidence that goes into debunking their theories, a meta-analysis was written and posted using the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health website. “Vaccines Are Not Associated with Autism: An Evidence-based Meta-analysis of Case-control and Cohort Studies” collects studies from sources such as MEDLINE, PubMed, EMBASE, and Google Scholar up to April, 2014. Studies involving over one million children were conducted to conclude that there is no correlation between vaccines and autism.

The ingredients used in certain vaccines (thimerosal, formaldehyde, phenoxyethanol, aluminum compounds, etc.) have come under fire as contributing to the development of autism. However, those ingredients are used as preservatives and antibacterial agents, so when the shot is injected it doesn’t become infected. Thimerosal (a mercury-based organic compound) is used to prevent the growth of bacterial organisms in the vaccine and formaldehyde is used to stop the antigens injected from becoming an active virus. The amount of these substances used is miniscule, only enough to perform the job and then disappear. A popular anti-vaccinator argument used is that thimerosal used in the MMR vaccines can lead to the development of ASD. According to Noushin Heidary and David E. Cohen, authors of “Hypersensitivity Reactions to Vaccine Components,” MMR vaccines do not contain any traceable thimerosal. That claim can be completely disregarded as there is no scientific to ascertain any truth behind it.

ASD is a speech and social interactions disorder that’s cause is clearly linked to genetics. Autism and related conditions run in families. If one child has ASD, another child has an increased chance of having it as well. Autism also has links to changes in sex hormones. The spike of diagnosed ASD has skyrocketed, possibly due to the usage of various chemicals in food, cleaning, and cosmetic products (not vaccines). An example of such are phthalates, which studies have proven can cause estrogen imbalances and lead to decreased sperm counts and fertility issues. Phthalates (which are not used in vaccines) do not have direct links to the development of autism, but rather reproductive disorders. The spike of phthalates usage in consumer goods is perhaps linked to the spike of children born with autism due to the parent’s intake of the substance.

Scientifically, the lack of evidence to show a correlation between ASD and vaccines is enough proof that children need vaccines. Parents who don’t vaccinate their children are being rather selfish. A little under a century ago, polio was a rampant disease in Europe and the United States. The polio vaccine eradicated the disease, as there have been no reported cases that have originated in the country. Children are supposed to receive four doses of the IPV (inactivated poliovirus vaccine) from ages two months to six years. Polio is a crippling disease that can cause paralysis, meaning it can damage the spinal cord and impair or completely stop movement of certain limbs. The disease is most famously associated with the tank respirators of the 20th century, known as iron lungs. When the virus paralyzed certain chest muscles, an iron lung was necessary to keep the patient alive by artificially pumping the lungs for them. At this stage of the virus, it was usually fatal. Iron lungs were expensive and left patients to completely succumb to the machinery. They stayed there for weeks, even months at a time. When Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine in 1955, it was too late for many. By 2010, there were an estimated dozen people still in iron lungs, spending decades in the metal cocoons to maintain their breathing.

There are thousands of people who lost their lives to the virus, and survivors today live to tell their tale. In an NBC News feature story Martha Ann Lillard detailed her experiences living for over sixty years in an iron lung. “If my mother would have had the opportunity to give me the vaccine, she would have done that,” she told NBC.

Not getting your kids the polio vaccine is disrespecting the pain and suffering the polio epidemic our country has endured. Vaccines are an extremely modern form of medicine this generation is incredibly privileged to have. Parents are taking advantage of medicines that would have saved thousands of lives years ago. This is highly offensive to those who suffered from disastrous diseases, such as Lillard.

With the refusal to vaccinate children, parents have created actual pocket communities who didn’t vaccinate. In definition, a cult is a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange. This definition draws frightening parallels to the growths of communities who don’t vaccinate. They are like-minded, they formed a community, and they are regarded in the scientific community as strange. With the development of these pocket communities there have been numerous outbreaks. In Tarrent County, Texas, there was a measles outbreak among children who didn’t receive the vaccine in 2013, and last year there was one in Minnesota. In 2018 alone there have been 17 outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccine coverage needs to be at least 95% percent in children to protect against infectious diseases. With the MMR vaccine being so prominent, the number of measles cases in the US has drastically dwindled by over 90%.

These communities of anti-vaccinators have used the “vaccines cause autism” theory to promote their beliefs. Frankly, it calls question to the morality of these parents. Why are they so afraid of their children being born with autism? They are indirectly saying that they don’t want their kids to have ASD so much that they would willingly risk their children contracting fatal diseases. What’s worse, a speech impediment or paralysis? It is never worth the risk. If your child is born with ASD, you should love them for who they are. Selfishly refusing to vaccinate kids for beliefs that have been repeatedly proven false by the scientific community is becoming an epidemic in this country. We are taking what we have for granted.

Before deciding to raise your child drug and vaccine free due to internet conspiracies and misnformed celebrities, consider the fact that vaccines have saved millions of lives, are proven to be effective, and have minimal side effects (that don’t include ASD). Question your own morals, as ASD is no reason to not give your child unconditional love. Being a vegan is a wonderful lifestyle to live until you don’t get vaccinated and contribute to growing number of outbreaks in the U.S.