I am currently sitting on the couch, box of tissues on my left, forty ounce water bottle on my right, wrapped in a blanket, writing this post. Can you guess what horrible winter illness I picked up at my university? It’s the flu. And if I had listened to my mother about getting a simple flu shot, I probably wouldn’t be in this mess. But, since flu vaccines are not as popular here as in the United States (my best friend from Madrid likes to call us “weak” Americans for getting a flu shot every year when she got hers every five), I am susceptible to the flu that’s floating around the world, like many other unvaccinated children and adults.
Now flu shots are no big deal for me. I’ll take the risk (and clearly it didn’t pay out for me this time) of catching it. But I was vaccinated for more serious diseases all throughout my life, from the time I was a baby until a few years ago when I finished up my third vaccine against HPV. Vaccines were always something I dreaded, but I knew I needed them to stay healthy. While it’s been scientifically proven that vaccines are beneficial, there still is controversy around whether or not to vaccinate children.
What is a vaccine?
A vaccine is made from very small amounts of weak or dead germs that can cause diseases — for example, viruses, bacteria, or toxins. It prepares your body to fight the disease faster and more effectively so you won’t get sick.
Vaccines have been around since 1796 when Edward Jenner gave a 13 year old boy the first ever vaccine that gave immunity to smallpox. A few years later, the first smallpox vaccine was developed. Several others went on to research and create vaccines for cholera, the plague, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella, and polio. With the polio vaccine, mass eradication of the disease has occurred in almost every country in the world, and researchers hope to eradicate measles next. There’s also been research done into bettering the way vaccines are made and administered in hopes of innovating the practice of inoculation.
Why should we vaccinate? Vaccinations cause more good than harm, vaccines.gov says. For example, the biggest benefit to vaccination is clearly the life saving aspect of the vaccine itself. Now more than ever, children can be better protected from seriously contagious and life threatening diseases by being vaccinated. Additionally, if children are vaccinated, there’s a lesser chance that they’ll spread the disease to others that have weaker immune systems because of age, allergies, or other diseases, like cancer.
Vaccinated children will also have a higher likelihood of being able to attend school, if the school requires vaccinations, and a lower likelihood of contracting disabilities that come from certain preventable diseases, like polio. This saves families time and money. Above all, vaccines are safer and more effective now than ever before, making the comfort of the shot such a minuscule side effect (and other more severe side effects are incredibly rare) when it comes to the grand scheme of things.
Who are anti-vaxxers? Anti-vaxxers are people who oppose vaccination. The anti-vaccination movement sounds exactly like what it is: a movement against vaccinating children against preventable diseases. These diseases are ones like measles, polio, whooping cough, and chickenpox. This movement was highly publicized when Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a study (with faulty data, which has since been proven) which proposed that MMR vaccines were linked to causing autism in some children. With the backing of celebrity Jenny McCarthy, vaccine hesitancy has become a huge public health topic and danger.
Aside from the now disproved claim that vaccines cause autism, there are other reasons for vaccine hesitancy. Commonly, children are not vaccinated because of religious reasons. Additionally, personal philosophies or beliefs and safety concerns play big roles in the choice to abstain from vaccinations.
However, children who are unvaccinated put themselves and others at risk. People with weaker immune systems are at risk when they’re around an unvaccinated child. For example, those who are too young to be vaccinated themselves, those with certain immune deficiencies (cancer, HIV/AIDS), and those who cannot be vaccinated because of allergies. This also costs millions of dollars due to local and state health departments having to spend way more money than usual because of the increase in infected people.
It’s true that you cannot spread a disease you don’t have. But if you haven’t been vaccinated, you’re at a higher risk of catching and spreading that disease that is vaccine preventable. And much of the time, you’ll be contagious before even showing symptoms. So you’re spreading a disease you don’t even know you have.
By not vaccinating, we put the lives of millions of people at risk. It’s a public health crisis, as we’ve seen with the recent measles and whooping cough outbreaks. The data from the original study linking the MMR vaccine to autism has been shown to be faulty and for the doctor’s personal gain and cannot be replicated, yet there are still people who are hesitant to vaccinate their children. Public health officials urge parents to vaccinate their children for the sake of the child and for others. As vaccines.gov says: “if we continue vaccinating now, and vaccinating completely, parents in the future may be able to trust that some diseases of today will no longer be around to harm their children in the future.”