Parents are nervous about vaccines. They involve needles, for crying out loud! (Babies literally cry out loud when they get them.) And aren’t vaccines full of toxins? Well… no.
There is no controversy
Many parents believe that there is a controversy about vaccine safety. The truth is that there is no controversy, despite what you may have read, here and elsewhere. Vaccine safety has been investigated ad nauseam, and in very large population studies (sometimes entire countries). No study, published in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal has been able to find any negative health consequences of vaccines. None.
The truth is that, apart from synthetic fibers and indoor plumbing, vaccines are the single greatest public health triumph in human history.
Do vaccines cause Autism?
No. They do not. This is one aspect of vaccine lore which really needs to be abandoned. Not only do vaccines have nothing to do with the autism spectrum, vaccines have not been associated with any bad neurodevelopmental outcome of any kind. A few years ago, the anti-vaccine movement (including RFK, Jr) blamed the mercury-containing preservative Thimerosal for causing autism. The journal Pediatrics published three reviews showing that Thimerosal had nothing to do with autism. That was back in 2004. It shouldn’t be a surprise that no one talks about Thimerosal any more.
Need a SLEEP COACH?
The dose makes the poison
Yeah, but vaccines are chock full of poisonous preservatives, aluminum and whatnot, am I right? Aluminum and other things, yes. Chock full, no. Something the anti-vaccine movement does not understand is that miniscule amounts of any compound are generally harmless. How much arsenic do you consume every day? Serious question. On the other hand, large amounts of “harmless” substances can be lethal. Drinking excessive amounts of water all at once will kill you (from brain swelling). Seriously, don’t try it – you’ll die.
Are vaccines a “public good”?
By definition, a public good is something that is non-excludable and non-rival. They are non-excludable because the non-vaccinating crowd cannot be excluded from benefitting from the herd immunity that the vaccinated majority provides. Vaccines are non-rival because my getting my kid vaccinated does not prevent another kid from getting vaccinated.
Having said all that
Now, anti-vaxxers do have a point about some things. Universal vaccine programs tend to employ the coercive power of the state to get to vaccinate your kids. In California right now, you can’t get into school without being vaccinated, and religious exemptions no longer work, as of January 2016. That’s a shame. There are extremely few things that are so good that the government has to force you to do them. Unfortunately, vaccination is one of them. There ought to be a better way to persuade folks to do the right thing, short of bringing down the “benevolent” hand of the State.
Extremism 2 – Nuance 0
The other problem with the entire vaccine debate is that nuanced arguments get drowned out by all the screaming from the Pro and the Anti camps. That too is a shame, because there is a great deal of nuance to be explored between the extremes.
Most parents are concerned that vaccines are toxic. I’m concerned that they won’t work. If all people scrutinized everything else that happens in medicine as closely as some people scrutinize vaccines, the world would be a better place. But people don’t scrutinize everything that happens in medicine. This is an even bigger shame.
Some vaccines are better than others, in many ways. The Whooping Cough vaccine, DTaP, sucks. It simply sucks. The effect lasts 5 years, maybe. The Smallpox vaccine on the other hand, is great. I should say was great. You see, Smallpox was wiped out world-wide because of the vaccine, in 1977.
And polio vaccine is about to do what Smallpox vaccine did 40 years ago. And when that happens, it will represent an even greater public health victory than the Smallpox win. Why? Smallpox you could only get from another person you got close to. You can get Polio from infected water, like in a swimming pool. It’s much much harder to eradicate. But we’re very close.
There’s lots more nuance to discuss, but I’ll mention only one more: Tetanus vaccine. There’s no reason why you should keep a kid out of school for not having a Tetanus vaccine. Why not? Because Tetanus is the only infectious disease we vaccinate against that you can’t catch from another person. You get it from a bacterium that lives in dirt. But it’ll kill you if you get it. There’s no cure for Tetanus. Get the vaccine. For the love of God, get it.