Almost all substances are toxic under the right conditions.
“Sola dosis facit venenum (only dose makes the poison).”
-Paracelsus, the father of modern toxicology
As a Medical Officer in the U.S. Army I had the opportunity to oversee the vaccination of thousands of our troops prior to their deployment to Iraq. Some of the vaccines, like anthrax and smallpox, aren’t commonly given to the general civilian population. One, anthrax, had never received FDA approval. As you might imagine, some of the troops were hesitant to receive these vaccines. They had heard the stories about possible negative side effects. They also knew, however, that they did not have a choice in the matter. I had to order more than one reluctant young soldier to be vaccinated. There is another group of Americans who have no say over whether they will be vaccinated or not: our children. Read on to find out the five most common myths anti-vaccination advocates use to coerce parents into leaving their children unprotected.
Myth 1: Vaccines are not necessary – Only smallpox has been eradicated in the wild. And even with that terrible disease, virulent samples still remain in government controlled labs. Immunization programs have led to the elimination of measles and poliomyelitis in some regions of the world along with significant reduction in morbidity and mortality in diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the lives of millions of children are saved annually because of vaccination programs.
Myth 2: Children get too many shots, too early – Normal, everyday bacteria in the environment, as well as those already present in the body, challenge the immune systems of young children on a daily basis. “Vaccines are a trivial challenge to what children typically encounter and manage every day”, said Paul Offit, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Immunologists at the University of California, San Diego looked into the number of immunological challenges a person can respond to at one time. After considering the variety of compounds in vaccines, including bacterial proteins, bacterial polysaccharides and viral proteins, Offit explained, they calculated that young children could safely respond to as many as 100,000 vaccines at once. An exaggeration perhaps, but point taken.
Myth 3: The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism – This fallacy started in 1998 when Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a study in The Lancet stating that in 8 out of 12 cases studied, the MMR vaccine may have had an impact on the behavior of children. In addition to numerous other studies of this claim, The New England Journal of Medicine in 2002 published a long term study that followed over a half million children. The conclusion was that rates of autism were the same among those who had been vaccinated and those who had not. Following other extensive reviews, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization and other major medical authorities have all reached the same conclusion as the New England Journal of Medicine article.
Myth 4: Vaccines are not 100% safe – This is true, but then again nothing in life is 100% safe. Each and every thing we do contains some element of risk. Of course, some activities are much more dangerous than others. As adults we must employ logic and reason to evaluate risk versus benefit and proceed accordingly. Our Department of Defense admits to at least one death of a soldier being directly attributable to pre-deployment vaccinations. Keep in mind that not receiving the recommended vaccines is much more dangerous than the alternative.
Myth 5: Vaccines don’t work – The truth is that vaccines work so well that diseases that were commonplace just a few decades ago have never been seen by some modern physicians. As noted earlier, smallpox in the wild has been eliminated and the need for vaccination of the general population against the disease has been eliminated as well. Before the vaccine became available in 1963, almost all U.S. children had measles before age 15. The disease killed an average of 450 Americans each year. Pertussis and diphtheria rates are much, much lower now than before their vaccines were introduced.
What kind of damage can the disinformation spread by the the anti-vaccination campaign do? Look at pertussis (whooping cough) rates in the U.S. since 1976. Incidence rates are up an incredible 2300% since fear of vaccination came to take hold and vaccination rates began to plummet over 30 years ago. Eight children died in a pertussis epidemic last year in the state of California. As an educated and enlightened people, we owe it to our children to do better.