Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why You Should Vaccinate

I have been working on this one for some time, now. I think it is time to share it.

Most of my friends are well aware how pro-vaccine I am.

In the first place, I think that I have the educational background required to make a very well-informed analysis of the topic. (If you don't know, I have a B.S. in Biology [minor in Chemistry and an emphasis in Biotechnology, which both come in handy if we are discussing vaccines] and am completing an M.S. in Microbiology and Immunology.)

Vaccines were a huge development created in order to prevent horrible diseases like small pox, polio, rabies, measles, diphtheria, and so on. The thing about vaccines is, no, they are not perfect. Some of the people vaccinated (out of millions, mind you) will have bad side effects. Some of these, I believe, can be due to an underlying autoimmunity in the vaccinated person (which is there whether you get the vaccines or not—these types of conditions are often genetic. I don't think this has been proven, it's just an idea I've had). Regardless, some just have nasty side-effects that are general and go away. The thing about this is that vaccines prevent diseases that are MUCH worse than the side-effects of vaccination. The risk of you falling into maybe 1% of people who have bad side-effects are out-weighed by the benefit of being protected from these diseases.

I feel that most people who are anti-vaccine do not know enough about the diseases the vaccines prevent. To that end, I will attempt to give an overview of one of these diseases. You can tell me if you think the vaccines are worth it.

MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. According to the CDC Website (that is, the Centers for Disease Control) "Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus... Measles causes fever, runny nose, cough and a rash all over the body. About one out of 10 children with measles also gets an ear infection, and up to one out of 20 gets pneumonia. For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die." One in 1,000 is .001% Not very high. However, according to the US Census Bureau, the estimated population in 2013 for the US alone was 316,128,839! .001% of this is 316,128. Over 300,00 people per year would die of measles in the US.

The CDC also states "The virus is highly contagious and can spread rapidly in areas where vaccination is not widespread. It is estimated that in 2008 there were 164,000 measles deaths worldwide—that equals about 450 deaths every day or about 18 deaths every hour." Now that is intense.

Common side effects of the vaccine include: "pain where the vaccine is given, fever, a mild rash, and swollen glands in the cheeks or neck." (CDC)

Also according to the CDC, severe reactions can happen. For example, less than one out of one million have a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine. Here is a direct link to the page: CDC: Side-effects of MMR. And for those of you who don't do well with math (like myself), that is less than .000001%! See? It becomes a numbers game where the benefits out-weigh the risks.

Measles is just one disease. If you are not sure about the symptoms of these various diseases, research! Make sure you know what you might be getting into by choosing not to vaccinate. Half-jokingly, my response is, "Do you know what happens when you get (insert disease here, ie: Tetanus)? Nothing good and then you die." I have various text books and resources easily available to myself. If you have questions about certain diseases, I would be happy to share the information.

Here is another thing that some people do not know/like to acknowledge. There has been absolutely no proof that vaccines cause autism. The CDC states "Because signs of autism may appear around the same time children receive the MMR vaccine, some parents may worry that the vaccine causes autism."

The guy who first published this study, Wakefield, is pretty notorious in my graduate program. He was the one who first observed this correlation between vaccines and autism (as a side note, correlation is not to be confused with causation. What this means is that vaccination rates rose as well as rates of autism, but that does not follow that vaccinations cause autism. No proof has been found to support Wakefield's claim.) Wakefield's "data" could not be duplicated and was later found to be fraudulent. In the scientific community, this is a huge offense—we call it scientific misconduct and it can get you into all kinds of trouble (which sadly, doesn't prevent it from happening—that is a topic for a different day, but I can answer questions if anyone has any). He was found guilty of misconduct and was forbidden to practice in the UK after that. I think he should have had his PhD revoked, personally (which can and has happened to other data fabricators and falsifiers). But alas, he didn't. Every time we talk about dropping vaccination rates and outbreaks of measles (or what have you) in the US, it is usually accompanied by a sarcastic, "Thanks, Wakefield" from someone in class.

Despite all of this, preservatives in vaccines were changed to help people not be so scared. People still harp on use of mercury in vaccines. For your information (and verified by the FDA), the mercury-containing compound that was used has been removed from many vaccines and reduced to the barest (we say "trace") amounts in the rest. I imagine that you get much more mercury from eating fish than you do from all the vaccines you get over your life-time.

And here, in my opinion, is the most important thing about vaccination: it creates a herd immunity. This means that enough people get vaccinated to block the infection in the general population. If most people are vaccinated, that helps protect the few that are not. This does not give you license to not vaccinate yourself or your children; that's not the point. The point is that some people are allergic to vaccines and some people don't have healthy immune systems. These people CANNOT get vaccinated, even if they want to. These individuals rely on the herd immunity to protect them. They rely on the people who CAN get vaccines to do so.

Lastly, say vaccines cause autism (I know they don't, but lets pretend). There is a chance that your child, following vaccines, will get autism. People, apparently, would rather not have a child who is autistic (and therefore a little different) than to have a sick/dead child. Not only that, but by not vaccinating their own child (at the horrible, life-threatening risk of autism<—this is sarcasm) endanger the life of their child AND the children around them who are relying on herd vaccination to protect them. To me, that is just selfish. The choice is death or autism and you are going to choose death? And the deaths of others? This is just sad, actually.

Here are a few resources and personal accounts for your purusal:
New York Times: Autism and the Agitator by Frank Bruni
Voices for Vaccines: Growing Up Unvaccinated
Violent metaphors: Dear parents, you are being lied to by Jennifer Raff

And here is a video that a friend posted on Facebook in response to a mutual friend posting the NYT article above. I am so glad this was made. It really hits exactly the point I was trying to make. There is some swearing, just so you know: Penn and Teller on Vaccinations

If there are points that I didn't address here (I'm sure there are) that you want me to address, please let me know and I will do my best.

When in doubt, you can always talk to a doctor or nurse, or, if you have the opportunity, a Medical Microbiologist or Immunologist!


  1. Great blog! Very informative and full of great resources. I'm pro-vaccination, and though I agree with your argument from the beginning, I think you did a great job of structuring a solid argument for vaccination to try and inform those who are against it. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I am pro vaccination too. Just a thought though. Understanding that if one in a thousand children than get measles will die, you can't extrapolate that there would be over 300,000 deaths in the US every year unless every single person gets the measles and that they are children.

    1. Because of its highly transmissible nature, it is quite likely that measles would spread to everyone during their lives. Most data categorizes measles as one of the 6 childhood diseases that nearly all children encounter (along with things like Fifth Disease), especially in countries without effective vaccinations. Besides, the numbers were to try to help people put that in perspective.