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You Have The Luxury of Not Vaccinating Your Child Because I Vaccinate Mine

The recent outbreaks of measles in the United States hurts my scientific heart. And I say “heart” not because the way I regard vaccines is based on a feeling or what a Playboy Bunny said or a real estate mogul tweeted, but because there are children who are seriously ill who could have been protected.

My scientific brain that was put through the rigors of earning a Microbiology B.S. and an M.D. from the University of Maryland is not happy either. I’m not practicing medicine at this time, but I know vaccines are safe because I have read and evaluated the scientific research. It is not swayed by the hype that drives ratings sweeps and cranks up website pageviews. If the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine was a cartoon, many would draw it with a pitchfork and horns.

I understand that as an individual, it may seem like no big deal for YOU to skip immunizations for your kids or to alter the administration schedule. “It’s MY right. I’m just being safe.” Unfortunately, you are part of a community or as it is put in immunological terms, a “herd.”

It all comes down to herd immunity. When many people are immunized, it doesn’t leave a place for the diseases to “breed and live.” When the community at large is vaccinated and protected, this means that people who are not eligible to be vaccinated such as infants, pregnant women, and immunocompromised people also get some measure of protection from the disease because the collective “community immunity” doesn’t give it room to spread. This also means that even if a vaccine is not 100% effective, people are unlikely to get sick because the disease is just not around.

So if YOU decide not to vaccinate your kids in a community with high immunization rates, your children will probably be fine. They’re getting the benefits from your community’s responsible actions.

You Have the Luxury of Not Vaccinating Your Child Because I Vaccinate Mine

The problem comes when you “herd” yourself with other anti-vaccinators. You create a lovely pool for the disease to infect and spread as can be seen in New York City. We live in a global society and measles is still out there because of fear mongering and because OTHER COUNTRIES CAN’T AFFORD THE VACCINE.

And guess what? You’ve not only put your children at risk, but you’ve put those who can’t be vaccinated, as mentioned before, at risk also.

Oh, and one more thing, YOU may be at risk too. Up to five percent of children vaccinated fail to develop immunity and sometimes immunity can wane, but this is usually overcome by giving a second dose of MMR before entering school. However, the second dose policy was not implemented until 1989. Did you get that second dose?

The decision not to vaccinate seems to sprout like a fungus from the false beliefs that 1) vaccines cause autism and 2) that childhood illnesses are no big deal.

1. False Premise: Vaccines cause autism.

A few things first. I understand that scientific papers are hard to slug through. And not all research is created equal. Studies that are observational, do just that, observe what has already happened. These rely heavily on patient reporting.

This is a weaker study than the gold standard, randomized controlled trials, in which the subjects are randomly distributed into groups which are either subjected to the experimental procedure or which do not receive it and serve as controls. In this kind of study, there is less bias and it is easier to weed out coincidences.

Also, published research is not a proclamation of fact. It is a sharing of what has been discovered to advance science. It doesn’t mean it is flawless. “Discoveries” do not come from one paper. Multiple scientists must replicate and advance a finding before a real “Eureka!” moment is reached.

It’s easy to forget this when the press latches onto a concept like “MMR causes autism,” and pukes it from the rooftops to stir panic and fear because that keeps you coming back for more.

All of the MMR vaccine misinformation can be traced back to one paper. The link between this vaccine and autism was proposed by a British physician, Andrew Wakefield, in the Februrary 1998 issue of The Lancet. This finding has never been replicated by any other researchers. More importantly, it was discovered to be manufactured from fraudulent data and has been RETRACTED.

There were only twelve children in the observational study–this means that even if the findings were true, they really only provided a starting point for other research, not for conclusions. However, that hardly matters since the entire causal effect was based on what the parents reported as the length of time from the administration of the vaccine to onset of autism spectrum symptoms AND THAT DATA WAS FALSIFIED. The timelines of the children’s symptoms were misrepresented.

Even more damning was Wakefield’s conflict of interest. How could an article with such a small sample size and the title, Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children, cause such a fervor? Wakefield had an agenda to advance because he was a paid consultant to attorneys representing parents with anti-vaccine lawsuits. The General Medical Council in the U.K. revoked Wakefield’s medical license because of his fraudulent report and unethical behavior.

What is atrocious is that it took until 2010 for that paper to be retracted and for Wakefield to lose his license. For over a decade the fires of misinformation have been fanned and stirred into a bonfire so raging that four years after it should be extinguished it is still smoldering.

And the target of controversy has also shifted. The original autism scapegoat was the MMR vaccine, but the blame game has subtly shifted to focus on the ethylmercury vaccine perservative, thimerosal. This shift was spurred more by activist and political groups than science. Regardless, thimerosal has been removed from vaccines, mostly since 2001.

My heart breaks for the parents who are just looking for answers for their children on the autism spectrum, but I seethe with anger over all of the money that has been diverted from worthwhile autism research to prove over and over again that vaccines are not linked to it. With the combined studies to date, millions of children have been studied and no link has been found.

 2. False Premise: Childhood illnesses are no big deal.

In the United States, today’s parents mistakenly think that not vaccinating is the safer choice because they do not remember nor have ever seen the diseases. But these “childhood diseases” aren’t just spotty rashes or coughs. They can cause lasting disabilities and, at times, death. At the very least, they cause weeks of suffering and prolonged time off from work for caregivers. Because these are viral diseases, there is generally no specific treatment once they are contracted.

Here is a crash course on a few, but not all, preventable diseases.

Measles: Worldwide, it remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine. Approximately 122, 000 people died from measles in 2012 – mostly children under the age of five. Some of the more serious side effects are blindness and encephalitis.

Mumps: The infections are usually mild but cause painful swelling of the salivary glands. Sometimes there is swelling of the pancreas and testicles (rarely, this can lead to infertility).

Rubella: It’s generally a mild disease in children; but the infection of pregnant women is dangerous because it can cause congenital rubella syndrome (a variety of birth defects) in developing babies.

Pertussis: Also known as whooping cough, it is most severe for young babies. About half of babies younger than 1 year of age who get it end up in the hospital, and a few even die from the disease. It can be pretty serious in adults too. The coughing can be so forceful, it can crack ribs. Pertussis is seeing  a resurgence so check with your doctor to see if you need the Tdap vaccine as a booster. You may be due.

Chicken Pox: While the disease is usually mild, it can lead to pneumonia and swelling of the brain. Also, the chicken pox virus “embeds” in your nerve endings. You may get painful shingles infections later in life when the dormant virus re-emerges.

Polio: There was a time that every parent lived in fear of this disease. While it most often produced flu-like symptoms, it could also cause paralysis and death.

This is not a childhood disease, but it deserves an honorable mention.

Human Papilloma Virus: This virus causes cervical cancer. The vaccine reduces the risk of CANCER. That is amazing.

Baby in a Basket

My oldest child was born in 1998 and was due for her first MMR vaccination in 1999, right when the hysteria was gaining momentum. My husband and I had her vaccinated. I had read Wakefield’s paper for myself and realized the flaws. Also a well performed study by Brent Miller was already published. He studied 498 children and could not find a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

Since that time, millions of kids have been studied and no links have been found. Please consider the weight of the evidence produced versus the fraud that was popularized when making decisions for your kids. You’re not just affecting yourself, but the health of the whole community.

-Ellen

For another great article on vaccinations read this one from Violent Metaphors.

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By Ellen Williams Erin Dymowski

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25 Responses to “You Have The Luxury of Not Vaccinating Your Child Because I Vaccinate Mine”

  1. Ashley @ It's Fitting
    April 6, 2014 at 5:49 pm #

    THIS. I am so glad you wrote this. When people preach the gospel of a certain mtv celebrity and her vehemence agains vaccines I die a little because PEOPLE, she is not a DOCTOR. I read the hubbub about Wakefield’s paper years ago and decided, like you, that the scientific evidence for the benefits of vaccinations was too strong to refute.
    I am a research and evidence kind of person. If you could show me strong evidence from respected scientists and multiple studies that vaccines were unsafe, then yes, I would think twice. But exposing my children to the dangers of disease because of a few loud and uneducated voices? I’d like to think I’m a better mom than that.
    Ashley @ It’s Fitting recently posted..The Thing We Have Been Waiting For… For YEARSMy Profile

    • The Sisterhood
      April 6, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

      Thank you for your articulate comment. Information so much better when it is not distorted 25th hand. Ellen

  2. Grown and Flown
    April 6, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

    Ellen, Love love love this. I am so glad to hear a mom with the scientific knowledge make these important points. Can I add one more thing? My kids got chicken pox before the vaccine came to London, where we were living. Not problem, I thought, kids weather these things well….what I did not anticipate was that my husband had not had chicken pox. I hope never to seen him that ill again. Adults do not do well with childhood diseases and since we cannot know who might be susceptible, people need to vaccinate their kids! Wonderful piece.
    Grown and Flown recently posted..College Admissions: Don’t Go It AloneMy Profile

    • The Sisterhood
      April 6, 2014 at 7:09 pm #

      Yes, thank you. Chicken pox is no joke in adults. I got it as a 20 year old. Ugh. I will be waiting on line for my shingles vaccine. Ellen

      • Ashley @ It's Fitting
        April 6, 2014 at 11:52 pm #

        I wish I had been able to get a chicken pox vaccine as a child, because getting shingles when I was 18 was TERRIBLE.
        Ashley @ It’s Fitting recently posted..The Thing We Have Been Waiting For… For YEARSMy Profile

      • Carmel
        April 7, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

        THe chicken pox vaxx is 60% effective in the general population – as my DOCTOR told me when I asked about our vaccinated neighbor’s kids who all got the CP. so we will see quite a few more 20 year olds getting it now. Enjoy.

        The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program awards claims to people harmed by vaccines. It has paid out over $2 billion. 83 children that had claims paid (that are alive), qualify for a diagnosis of autism. Three claims were paid that mention autism as a result of vaccination. So don’t say vaccines do not cause autism. They also can result in brain damage and death. And you can thank me later for “giving” the non-existent herd my child for your greater good.

        Does anyone here have a child who is vaccine injured who feels that it is ok? They fight us for medical care for our children, for appropriate education for our kids and I’m sure I’ll have to fight for his rights when he’s an adult. You see him as less – you should see him as your damn “greater good” HERO.

        • The Sisterhood
          April 7, 2014 at 9:12 pm #

          Varicella vaccine is 85% effective if one dose is given and 98% effective when two dose are given. Ellen
          http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/varicella/hcp-effective-duration.htm

          More on Vaccine Court:
          http://www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation/index.html
          “On October 1, 1988, the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (Public Law 99-660) created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). The VICP was established to ensure an adequate supply of vaccines, stabilize vaccine costs, and establish and maintain an accessible and efficient forum for individuals found to be injured by certain vaccines. The VICP is a no-fault alternative to the traditional tort system for resolving vaccine injury claims that provides compensation to people found to be injured by certain vaccines. The U. S. Court of Federal Claims decides who will be paid.”

          Claims paid in a no-fault court are not the same as scientific research finding a causal link. Tort rulings do not equal scientific proof. Those cases were not compensated because of autism.
          In fact, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services states the following:
          The evidence favors rejection of five vaccine–
          adverse event relationships:
          • MMR vaccine and autism
          • MMR vaccine and type 1diabetes
          • DTaP (tetanus) vaccine and type 1 diabetes
          • Inactivated influenza vaccine and Bell’s palsy (weakness of the facial nerve)
          • Inactivated influenza vaccine and exacerbation of asthma or reactive airway disease
          episodes in children and adults
          http://www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation/adverseeffects.pdf

  3. Erin
    April 6, 2014 at 6:36 pm #

    YES So much this.. Research it… The major vaccinations were the only ones that I did not hesitate on. It was only after trial and error with the flu vaccine that we realized my daughter had a better immune system if we didn’t vaccinate.. within a year of stopping the flu vaccination her allergic asthma cleared up enough she was no longer on preventative meds. it was actually her Allergist that noticed the corrilation. She would get the shot in october or so…then fight every little cold until february. BUT Measles, mumps, polio, the major ones.. Were a no contest.
    Erin recently posted..Married,Kids, Sex and Chronic IllnessMy Profile

  4. Jen Snyder
    April 6, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    Jen Snyder recently posted..#momreality roundup – MarchMy Profile

  5. Sara
    April 6, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

    Thank you for writing and sharing this information. My 2 year old son was diagnosed a year ago with stage 4 cancer and has been undergoing treatment ever since. I don’t have the luxury of the choice to vaccinate and it makes me so angry when I read about outbreaks of measles near where I live. People not vaccinating their children put my son’s life in danger. He would die if he contracted any of these diseases. This is such important information to get out there!!

    • The Sisterhood
      April 6, 2014 at 10:27 pm #

      I am so sorry about your son’s diagnosis. Praying for health for him. Ellen

    • Jen
      April 6, 2014 at 11:45 pm #

      my daughter is a cancer survivor (diagnosed at 5, just turned 11) and I completely understand how you feel Sara. These people are ignorant and selfish. As “cancer moms” we depend on herd immunity to keep our kids safe

  6. Kathy at kissing the frog
    April 6, 2014 at 10:07 pm #

    Excellent, well-written post, Ellen. As my surgeon husband explained to me, in every person every drug has the potential to cause a negative reaction. If given properly to an otherwise healthy person, most do not. As a society, we can’t live in fear. Fear breeds more fear. We need facts, and you’ve given them to us.
    Kathy at kissing the frog recently posted..Around the Pond with the Frog~March 2014My Profile

  7. Henry
    April 7, 2014 at 2:02 am #

    Not a mom,.personally. But I am a dad, and mostly sensible. I am also a doctor. I very much appreciate this article and gave shared it on my FB wall and Twitter feed.
    I have many dear family and friends who are “anti-vaxxers”, and I live them dearly and have tried to reason with them. They are less Impressed by Jenny McCarthy and more impressed by Kenneth Copeland. Either way they are not swayed by reason.

  8. Meredith
    April 7, 2014 at 7:48 am #

    Fantastic. Can’t wait to share this with my immunologist husband and make his day!
    Meredith recently posted..The Non-Suck PartMy Profile

  9. Jennifer Steck
    April 7, 2014 at 8:03 am #

    When my son was young many years ago, it was never a question whether or not to have him immunized. It’s a shame that so much misinformation goes out that can have such a horrible impact. I haven’t done any research and don’t really understand the science. Thank you for clarifying things for us. I hope the message continues to spread.
    Jennifer Steck recently posted..Technology RelationshipsMy Profile

  10. Frank
    April 7, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    Thank you for clearly stating the facts about immunization. I appreciate the way you discribed this sad situation. It is a shame that so many naive people believed that quack doctor and a twit like Jenny McCarthy.

  11. Amy - Funny Is Family
    April 7, 2014 at 9:40 am #

    Being married to an immunologist, our family follows the life-saving recommendations to vaccinate. The time, energy, and money spent trying to prove Wakefield’s junk science is unbelievably frustrating, and the resurgence of previously eradicated diseases is terrifying.

    I applaud this thoughtful and well-written piece, and I hope facts and reason eventually put the vaccine debate to rest.
    Amy – Funny Is Family recently posted..The Cracks On My FaceMy Profile

    • The Sisterhood
      April 7, 2014 at 11:15 am #

      Thank you, Amy. Second immunologist seal of approval received. Ellen

  12. Leslie
    April 7, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

    Love hearing your perspective, Ellen, particularly given your background and education. I have some friends who didn’t vaccinate due to autism fears, and so I joined their herd and spread out my youngest son’s vaccinations. At 18 months he developed the worst case of Chicken Pox my pediatrician had seen in 20 years. It was SO painful for him and I felt terrible for being the cause of that. I caught up on his immunization schedule as soon as he recovered and I’ll never get behind again. Thanks again for the great post!
    Leslie recently posted..Quit staring at my shuttlecock, ya perv.My Profile

  13. Jessica
    April 7, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

    Thank you for this article! As a teacher of children with Autism, I have only had 1 parent out of 30 agree with the entire anti-vax stance. The other 29 families know that there are other factors besides vaccines that Autism stems from. I think we all need to change our stigma with Autism and know individuals with Autism can live fantastic lives. I mean if Einstein was in school today, he’d be labeled as having Autism and look at all he accomplished!!

  14. jessica @scienceofparenthood.com
    April 8, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

    Earning your blog title! Sensible indeed, well done!
    jessica @scienceofparenthood.com recently posted..We STILL Heart Baby Sideburns & Her Little A-HolesMy Profile

  15. Deb
    April 10, 2014 at 11:56 am #

    Thank you for the excellent explanation of herd immunity. That is the crux of the issue!
    Deb recently posted..Reasons to Keep Your Toddler AroundMy Profile

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