Why should you vaccinate yourself and your children?

Vaccines are a hot topic. Vaccines brings up lots of discussion, lots of false information, and a vitriolic passion rarely seen in matters of science and pseudoscience. My first post on this topic was about vaccines, what they are, and what they do. This post will address some of the false information and controversy (with an added bonus of bringing in my lovely sister’s fabulous point of view as a mom of two!) My final post will address a question I was asked about whether or not vaccinations are needed after a stem cell transplant.


By Photo Credit: James Gathany Content Providers(s): CDC [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Senate Bill 277, which eliminates the personal belief exemption for childhood vaccines, is causing an uproar in California. Signed into law on June 30, 2015, this law requires parents to vaccinate their children before they can be sent to school or daycare. This is such a huge deal because so many parents have decided that they should have the choice as to whether or not to vaccinate their children.  I think much of what prevents a parent from vaccinating their children are misconceptions about what dangers are associated with vaccinations and the fear associated with these misconceptions.  Let’s address a few of those here.

  1. Vaccines DO NOT cause autism. This damaging study done by Andrew Wakefield allegedly found a connection between the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (which, by the way, once this vaccine started to regularly be used in the 1960s, cases of measles dropped from 100,000s per year to less than 200 per year in the 1990s).  Subsequently it was found not only were the results not reproducible, but Wakefield falsified the results (please read this paper for more of the details). Unfortunately, the damage had already been done and this myth still prevents parents from vaccinating their children.
  2. Vaccines do save lives – but only if people are vaccinated.  The diseases that vaccines prevent are incredibly dangerous. Smallpox used to kill one in seven children in Europe, and now it has been completely eradicated by vaccination. I already mentioned how many children no longer get measles because of vaccination, but it should be mentioned what a an awful and contagious disease this is and in the 30% of people who have complications, they may become blind, develop brain inflammation or pneumonia among others. And now measles is reemerging from lack of vaccination (read about the Disney World outbreak here). Many of today’s parents grew up in a era without these deadly diseases (because everyone was vaccinated against them) and because of this may not realize the dangers posed by the diseases they choose not to vaccinate against.
  3. There are two main ways to be protected from these diseases, get vaccinated or rely on herd immunity, which only works if a large percentage (the exact percentage depends on number of factors) of people are vaccinated.  This herd immunity is also what protects people who cannot be immunized or have decrease immune system function, including newborns and pregnant women. Herd immunity will not work for you and your family if people stop getting vaccinated. (Learn more about herd immunity here).
  4. Safety – this is obviously a concern to all people. Certainly, vaccines can cause side effects, as can many other drugs, and some people may have allergies to the vaccines, such as people allergic to eggs because flu vaccine is made in eggs.  However no study (that has been performed properly) has linked components in vaccines to autism or other diseases. One great example is the debate surrounding mercury as a filler in vaccines.  In the early 1900s, the preservative thimerosal, which contains ethyl mercury, was added to vaccines to prevent infections caused by bacteria sometimes contaminating the vaccines.  Thimerosal has been removed from vaccines, however even if now, this ethyl mercury can easily be expelled from the body (versus methyl mercury which is the mercury that builds up in fish and can cause problems). Further studies have not found any connection between thimerosal and autism (read more in a news article here or scientific publications here). Unfortunately, details of the science are not incredibly interesting, so this misconception still propagates.

There are many other controversies (and you can read more about myths concerning these controversies here), but as a scientist, what worries me most is that movie stars (Jim Carrey) and incorrect “science” are listened to more than the facts.  And I understand why – it’s because these vaccines are given to and affect people’s children. I don’t have children, but my sister does.  She passionately responded to a friend who refused to vaccinate her child, and I think her response is perfect (edited only sightly for clarity):

“When have we been the ones to make medical choices for our family? If you got cancer and they gave you a treatment plan would you counteroffer dosages? If you had a broken bone would you choose to stay awake to make sure the screws and bandages we done correctly? If you have no idea what is wrong with you do [doctors] hand you a menu and ask what you would like to be tested for??

However, as moms we have the choice to take our kids [to the doctor] if they have sniffles or feel crummy to see if it’s anything more or [to] treat them naturally at home. We have the choice to feed them organic GMO free [food] to give their bodies the healthiest stuff to grow strong and without added chemicals (because everything is made of a chemical compound in one way or another) and I wonder if all of these choices and everything we do for our kids we forget that sometimes other people do need to be trusted.

So [SB277] states if you are sending your child to public or private school you must [vaccinate your child]. If you are homeschool you can make your choice…. to play devils advocate a little: I also have the choice to send my kids to school knowing they won’t be exposed to diseases that they should be protected against. Where is my medical choice in that? You are relying on the fact that there are vaccines etc for everyone else and the diseases are under control. If you go under the assumption that no one should immunize or large groups have the choice [whether or not to immunize] it would be even more disheartening to have a wide spread dangerous outbreak of something that should have been virtually eradicated through shots and has the potential then to spread and mutate to something new they are then scrambling to find a vaccine for.

Do I think it’s s flawless system, no… Do I make educated medical decisions based on years of Medical school and training? No, because that is not what I studied. Can I look up basic things, consult with other friends and perhaps some people I know in the medical field? Sure, but I feel like if a stand needs to be made it needs to be from doctors backed by major medical and other health providers. And right now vaccines are how they are protecting us the best they can from certain diseases.”

If you want to read more, there are so many interesting articles.  Here are a few:
It’s time to take the controversy out of vaccines
News coverage of vaccine controversies drives down support for vaccines

Sadly, in a scientific study from the journal Pediatrics whose objective was to test the effectiveness of messages designed to reduce vaccine misconceptions and increase vaccination rates for measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), the authors found that it really doesn’t matter what I say in this article because I won’t be able to change your mind (full article here).  But maybe it will do something –  introduce another way of thinking to help you start a new conversation (from either side of the debate).

5 thoughts on “Why should you vaccinate yourself and your children?

  1. I am the one whose post your sister commented on on Facebook. I am also a scientist who has worked in pharmaceutical research, so I do know a thing or two about science and vaccines.

    First – there are, at present count, 100 studies linking vaccines to autism (http://www.scribd.com/doc/220807175/86-Research-Papers-Supporting-the-Vaccine-Autism-Link#scribd). That link says 86 in the URL but if you click on it you get the list of 100. They update it as new studies come out. However, there are a LOT more reasons to not vaccinate than just autism. Really, by bringing up that argument first, you are showing you really don’t understand all the dangers.

    Second – the CDC lied about studies regarding vaccines and autism. They found that black boys vaccinated with MMR before the age of 3 were around 3 times more likely to develop autism than boys vaccinated after the age of 3, and they covered it up. Google “William Thompson CDC whistleblower” and you can read about it. No mainstream media ever reported on this because it would be detrimental to the pharmaceutical industry, which is the largest advertiser in media today.

    Third – there are NO studies comparing vaccinated kids to non vaccinated kids when it comes to safety or efficacy of vaccinations. If you know otherwise, please post them. There are also no studies showing what receiving multiple vaccinations at one time will do to a person, nor what happens to a developing fetus when a pregnant woman is vaccinated.

    Fourth – the germ theory is dead. Exposure to a bacteria does not necessarily cause infection. Here are a couple of paragraphs from The Nature Cure to explain why..


    All bacteriologists are unanimous in declaring that the various disease germs are found not only in the bodies of the sick, but also in seemingly healthy persons.

    A celebrated French bacteriologist reports that in the mouth of a healthy infant, two months old, he found almost all the disease germs known to medical science. Only lately, a celebrated physician, appointed by the French government to investigate the causes of tuberculosis, declared before a meeting of the International Tuberculosis Congress in Rome that he found the bacilli of tuberculosis in ninety-five percent of all the school children he had examined.

    Dr. Osler, one of the greatest living medical authorities, mentions repeatedly in his works that the bacilli of diphtheria, pneumonia and of many other virulent diseases are found in the bodies of healthy persons.

    The inability of bacteria, by themselves, to create diseases is further confirmed by the well-known facts of natural immunity to specific infection or contagion. All mankind is more or less affected by hereditary and acquired disease taints, morbid encumbrances and drug poisoning, resulting from age-long violation of Nature’s Laws and from the suppression of acute diseases; but even under the almost universal present conditions of lowered vitality, morbid heredity and physical and mental degeneration it is found that under identical conditions of exposure to drafts or infection, a certain percentage of individuals only will take the cold or catch the disease. The fact of natural immunity is constantly confirmed by common experience as well as in the clinics and laboratories of our medical schools and research institutes. Of a specific number of mice or rabbits inoculated with particles of cancer, only a small percentage develops the malignant growth and succumbs to its ravages.
    Dr. Pettenkofer, a celebrated physician and professor of the University of Vienna, also arrived at the conclusion that bacteria, by themselves, cannot create disease, and for years he defended his opinion from the lecture platform and in his writings against the practically solid phalanx of the medical profession. One day he backed his theory by a practical test. While instructing his class in the bacteriological laboratory of the university, he picked up a glass which contained millions of live cholera germs and swallowed its contents before the eyes of the students. The seemingly dangerous experiment was followed only by a slight nausea. Lately I have heard repeatedly of persons in this country who subjected themselves in similar manner to infection, inoculation and contagion with the most virulent kinds of bacteria and disease taints without developing the corresponding diseases.

    A few years ago Dr. Rodermund, a physician in the State of Wisconsin, created a sensation all over this country when he smeared his body with the exudate of smallpox sores in order to demonstrate to his medical colleagues that a healthy body could not be infected with the disease. He was arrested and quarantined in jail, but not before he had come in contact with many people. Neither he nor anyone else exposed by him developed smallpox.

    Your assumption that unvaccinated kids automatically have diseases is just non sequitor. Lack of vaccination does not mean infection. In fact, the opposite is more likely to be true, as patients vaccinated with live virus vaccines have been proven to shed said viruses. That is why it is recommended that immunocompromised people not be around anybody who has been vaccinated in the previous 6 weeks.

    I could go on and on, but I need to take my son a speech therapist – which, by the way, I have to do because he is vaccine injured (speech and developmental delay thanks to the flu shot I received while pregnant and the DTaP shot he had as a baby).

  2. Thank you for your comments. There is obviously a lot of information out there and sorting out good studies from poorly done studies (studies that see a correlation but not a causation between vaccines and disease or studies that do not have the proper control groups etc.) and teasing out where the funding for these studies are coming from (e.g., funding for researcher from anti-vaccination organizations is more likely to result in results where vaccines cause problems) is beyond the scope of my blog. I can provide a few references that review the current state of the literature and address some of your comments:

    Immunogenicity and Clinical Efficacy of Influenza Vaccination in Pregnancy (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4455389/)
    Provides a list of references concerning the safety and efficacy of vaccines (https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/immunizations/Pages/Vaccine-Studies-Examine-the-Evidence.aspx)
    Immune responses in infants whose mothers received Tdap vaccine during pregnancy (a study of the immune responses in the fetus from mother’s who received the vaccine or didn’t) (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23799518)

    There are a few other points I want to address. You are correct that not vaccinating your children does not automatically cause disease. Exposure to the infectious agent is required to cause a disease. If a person who isn’t vaccinated never encounters measles or polio, they will not get that disease. Even in the case of exposure, differences in the person’s health (e.g., if they have a healthy immune system or a compromised immune system) will determine whether they develop the disease and the severity of the disease. This is why in young children and the elderly, both with less robust immune systems, are more likely to get sick when they encounter an infectious agent (and also why there are strong recommendations for these two groups to get vaccinated).

    Germ theory is in no way dead. It is true that we are covered, inside and out, with various bacteria. In fact we have more bacterial cells in and around our body than we have human cells. This “microbiome” is protective – often preventing infection and colonization by bad bacteria (which is why bad bacteria may be present, but doesn’t cause disease). When changes in the microbiome occur, for example through for example modifications in diet, antibiotics, or method of birth (C-section babies have a microbiome with less diversity than a baby born vaginally), this can result in the bad bacteria causing disease. Clostridium difficile infection (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clostridium_difficile_colitis) is a great example. There are also studies that show that children with autism have changes in their gut microbiome (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3564498/)– but it’s still unclear if this is a cause of autism or an effect.

    With any drug, there are risks. Tylenol in some people or under some circumstances can cause liver damage. This does not mean that Tylenol is unsafe. It just means that in some circumstances one of the least controversial of all drugs can have negative side effects. Vaccines also have side effects (this is acknowledged by government bodies, for example the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/rr/rr4512.pdf) for a number of vaccines or the WHO (http://www.who.int/vaccine_safety/initiative/tools/Influenza_Vaccine_rates_information_sheet.pdf) for influenza vaccine). It doesn’t mean that vaccines are unsafe, but rather that the small risk of side effects do unfortunately affect some people.

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  4. [Romans 1:19 KJV] “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed [it] unto them.”
    [Romans 1:20 KJV] “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:”
    [Romans 1:21 KJV] “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified [him] not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
    [Romans 1:22 KJV] “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,”
    [Romans 1:28 KJV] “And even as they did not like to retain God in [their] knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;”

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