Last week a US federal special court ruled that there was no scientific evidence to support a link between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism. In their ruling the court stated “it was abundantly clear that petitioners’ theories of causation were speculative and unpersuasive” and went on to say “the weight of scientific research and authority was simply more persuasive on nearly every point in contention.” The ruling was well received and applauded by the scientific and health communities. The families of those making claims to the VICP (vaccine injury compensation program) were disappointed with the ruling and continue to stand behind their claims that the MMR vaccine caused their children’s autism.
So will this ruling be the end of the debate? Likely, it will not mean the end of the debate. When your child is diagnosed with autism it is devastating and you want to know why it happened to your child. Since autism diagnoses often happen around the same time as the MMR vaccine is administered it becomes an easy scapegoat. More research needs to be conducted into autism, what causes it, etc so these parents can finally get some answers. I also think the public health and pediatric medicine communities need to do a better job of communicating with the public about both autism and vaccines to help put some of the fear and some of the debate to rest.
Why is there such a debate about vaccines? Parents want to protect their children at all costs and if they believe something could harm their child they are going to steer clear, that includes vaccines. Unfortunately, I think parents have become the victims of scientists, doctors and media professionals wanting to make a name for themselves. Many of the claims about the lack of safety of vaccines are not backed by peer-reviewed studies but rather by highly-emotional personal anecdotes, pseudo-science and misinformation. All of this combines to make for a high level of fear among parents of small children and a mass “jumping on the anti-vaccine bandwagon” so to speak. It is sometime easier to just say no than to try to weed through all the information out there to find what is true and accurate.
It has been a long time since we have seen the ill-effects of many of the diseases we are vaccinating our children against. Being so far removed from the diseases makes it hard for many parents to see why the vaccines are worth the risks. It is more important than ever for parents to do their research, especially when it comes to educating ourselves about the diseases these vaccines prevent. I am pro-vaccine and fully vaccinate my daughter. I have done the research regarding the risks involved with the vaccines as well as the risks of the diseases themselves and concluded that vaccinating my daughter is the right thing to do.
Parents need to know the facts (scientifically backed facts) about the vaccines and the diseases they protect against in order to make informed decisions. Below I have provided links to the information sheets for the common childhood vaccines, as provided by the National Network for Immunization Information.
- DTaP – diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Hib – Haemophilus influenzae type b
- MMR – measles, mumps and rubella
- Pneumococcal Conjugate
- Varicella – chicken pox
It can be hard sometimes to filter through the information available on the internet regarding vaccinations. There is a lot of junk science and misinformation circulating out there. Here are a few sites that I found helpful in my own research. I also found it helpful to speak with my daughter’s pediatrician, whose opinion and expertise I value and trust.
- National Network for Immunization Information
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- World Health Organization – Initiative for Vaccine Research
- National Vaccine Information Center
Many parents think it is safe to “opt-out” of vaccines for their children because the diseases they are protecting against have been either eradicated, eliminated or dramatically reduced. However, that will only remain the case if people continue to get vaccinated. Also, most of these diseases are still prevalent in other parts of the world, so you could be only a plane ride away from contracting them. Community-immunity is only effective if most of the community is vaccinated. You are not just putting your own children at risk you are also putting children who are too young for the vaccines or too sick to be vaccinated at risk.
On a personal note about community immunity. When I was a child I had Pertussis (whooping cough). It was during the 1980’s when there were outbreaks in many parts of the western world due to misinformation circulating about the vaccine’s safety and parents were opting out of the vaccine for their children. I had been vaccinated, however, contracted the disease anyway because unfortunately no vaccine is 100% effective. Let me tell you it was no picnic. I can still vividly remember how much it hurt to cough all the time, my chest and throat throbbed. My head hurt constantly for over a month because I coughed all the time.
The bottom line is I believe every parent has the right to decide what is best for their children. However, those decisions need to be based on accurate information and scientific facts. If after doing all the research you still decide that it is best not to vaccinate your child, well that is your choice.
Vaccines are safe and the risks associated with the diseases they protect us against far outweigh the risks associated with the vaccines themselves.