How many times have you seen it on Facebook, or heard it discussed among people you know? Vaccines cause autism, the mercury in vaccines is poisonous, vaccines don’t do anything. You may be left wondering, should I vaccinate my newborn baby?
Okay, Cliff’s notes: yes, you probably should, with few exceptions. This is an incredibly divisive and controversial topic, however. You don’t need to take my word for it, of course – I’m not a medical professional. But, please, bear in mind that neither are the vast majority of the people telling you not to vaccinate your child.
A vaccine, or inoculation, is a preparation designed to produce an immune response to a pathogen (a disease-causing bacterium or virus) and thereby confer immunity on the recipient. This is called acquired immunity and it is just the same as immunity acquired from a disease you catch normally.
The contents of vaccines vary but generally consist of the antigen – which is a deactivated form of the pathogen, or a related substance which produces the desired immune response; many also contain adjuvants which boost the immune response (usually these are aluminium based substances); stabilisers which improve shelf life (potentially containing pork gelatine, or human serum albumin, which is a protein found in blood); and preservatives such as formaldehyde and Thiomersal (the dreaded mercury). Some vaccines even contain tiny amounts of egg protein, this is because eggs are used in the manufacture of some types of vaccine.
For newborn babies in the UK, the first vaccine is scheduled for about 8 weeks after birth. There are then periodic appointments for more vaccines during the first year, and more ongoing until the child is grown up.
I know, it sounds like a lot, but I would rather my baby have these jabs than polio, for instance.
As I mentioned above, vaccinations produce an immune response to the antigen contained in the vaccine. So a Haemophilus influenzae B vaccine creates an immune response mimicking that which would be produced in response to a genuine Hib infection.
Because of the memory-like property of our immune system, this response is remembered in case of a real Hib exposure, producing immunity and so a decreased chance of infection.
This essentially means that through inoculation, your child is less likely to suffer from any of the vaccinated-against diseases. It can still happen, however, but the risk is much lower.
There seems to be a lot of anti-vaccine sentiment presently, although in fact, it has been around for decades. With the ubiquity of the internet and the opportunity for anyone to put their ideas up for consumption via a website or social media, these ideas have gained traction.
Reading the above list of ingredients might even leave you thinking along the same lines – doesn’t aluminium cause Alzheimer’s? Isn’t mercury deadly poisonous?? Isn’t formaldehyde used to embalm cadavers!??
Yes, sorta maybe. But that’s not the whole story. The 140 character Tweet can only convey so much information, and sensationalism is much more fun to spread than rational thought – disaster and danger lend themselves to a sound bite much more readily than does rational discourse. The big problem here is a lack of understanding.
The ingredients aren’t the end of it, however. Of course, there’s the alleged link to autism. I’ll look at that shortly. But some anti-vacciners insist that they aren’t even effective!
If they’re not effective, why risk it? Graphs showing the incidence of death associated with various illness seem to prove that disease was on the decline well before the introduction of vaccines.
And there do seem to be exceptions. There was an outbreak of mumps in America in the 2000s where many of those who succumbed were in fact already inoculated against mumps. Do vaccines, in that case, make you MORE susceptible to the disease they ought to protect you from?
I’ll try my best to answer these questions on this post.
I’m not going to go into enormous detail here, this sort of thing has been extensively covered elsewhere – although you need to do a lot of digging to get through all of the vaccines are baaaad mkay stuff.
But, in brief:
There is NO link between vaccinations and autism. If you believe otherwise, you have been deceived.
The originator of this myth is a now discredited doctor who manipulated the data of the study which purports to show this alleged link. Andrew Wakefield was found guilty of serious professional misconduct at a tribunal of the General Medical Council in regard to a study published in the Lancet medical journal in 1998.
Interestingly, Wakefield was a gastroenterologist, which means he specialised in the study and treatment of the digestive system.
He didn’t object to all vaccinations in his 1998 press release but claimed to have found a link between the triple vaccine MMR and a condition he called autistic enterocolitis. He suggested parents should demand to have the measles, mumps and rubella vaccines separately and at different times.
Yes, aluminium has been linked to neurological damage – in dialysis patients. Yes, formaldehyde is poisonous and carcinogenic. Yes, Thiomersal contains the toxic element mercury. But no, this doesn’t translate to “these inoculations are poisonous!”.
Formaldehyde, for instance, is used in all sorts of things you encounter every day. It is found in many cleaning products, both for personal cleaning and cleaning around the home. It is used in construction materials and in textiles. And, yes, it is famous for being used to preserve dead bodies – embalming.
It is in smoke – tobacco smoke, wood smoke, car exhaust – and as a result, you are breathing it in all the time. It is even produced in the body by normal metabolic processes. It is, in fact, quite common, even though it is a known human carcinogen.
If you want to know more about formaldehyde, read this website. A quote from that website should set your mind at ease:
If a child got all of those doses all at once (which they never would), they would get a total of 1,824μg, or 1.824mg, of formaldehyde. A 3.2kg (~7lb) newborn with an average blood volume of 83.3mL/kg would naturally have, at any given time, about 575-862μg of formaldehyde circulating in their blood. By the time they are 6 years old (~46lb or 21kg), they’ll naturally have 3,562-5,342μg of formaldehyde in their blood. Bear in mind that the formaldehyde from each shot will not build up in their bodies from shot to shot, as it is very rapidly (within hours) metabolized and eliminated as formate in the urine or breathed out as CO2.
So what’s the most a child might get in a single office visit? That would probably be at their 6 month visit (when they are, on average, 16.5lbs or 7.5kg) with HepB, DTaP, IPV and flu, for a total of 307.5μg. That is about 160 times less than the total amount their body naturally produces every single day*. Compare that to the 428.4-1,516.4μg of formaldehyde in a single apple.
The same goes for aluminium based adjuvants – studies have shown that babies ingest as much aluminium through diet as they are excused to through vaccines. In fact, aluminium is present in breast milk. Aluminium is one of the most common elements on Earth and it is no longer thought that aluminium plays a role in the development of dementia. In fact, few credible scientists have thought that for decades. It can have neurological effects in massive doses. A LOT more than you’d get from vaccines.
Finally, mercury. Mercury is a metal, which is liquid at room temperature – unusual (unique) for a metal. And yes, it is extremely poisonous. Thiomersal, a preservative used in some vaccines, contains ethylmercury salt. This is because it is very effective as an antifungal and antibacterial agent, so it keeps the vaccine viable for longer.
However, Thiomersal is no longer used in childhood vaccines in the UK, nor in any routine adult vaccines. If you are concerned about the use of mercury in vaccines, then that should allay your fears.
No, you’re being lied to again. Look at those graphs. Come on, look at them! What do they show?
Yes, that’s right, the number of deaths per year. The number of deaths from polio per year declined steadily even before the vaccine was introduced – the death rate simply continued to fall after the vaccine. So did vaccination do anything? Wasn’t polio on the way out already?
Right. Medicine has been improving, as has sanitation, and the provision of care in the developed world has improved too. This means that fewer people die of diseases that they happen to catch. Fewer people were dying of polio, but that isn’t the same as saying that fewer people were getting polio. THAT is why those graphs show deaths declining before vaccines are introduced – because we are better are treating diseases, not because there are fewer instances of the disease.
Yeah, great, so even without a polio vaccine, your kid might have less chance of dying from polio. But he’d have a much greater chance of getting polio if the population were unvaccinated. Sound good? No. Didn’t think so.
In my opinion, anti-vaccine sentiment is based mainly on fear and lack of understanding. There is no evidence whatsoever, as far as I am aware, that links vaccines with autism. There is no evidence that any of the ingredients in a vaccine are dangerous in the quantities to which baby will be exposed – even when they get several jabs at once.
One last point on autism – it is difficult to detect autism in what is essentially a human-shaped grub. A very young baby has almost no obvious emotional or psychological behaviour. However, when they get a bit older – at about a year old, for instance, when he gets his MMR vaccine – it is much easier to diagnose a disorder that is characterised by impaired social interaction skills, communication skills, and behavioural abnormalities. Before that age, kids don’t really have any social interaction skills or communication skills to observe! Hmm…
If I were you, I would get my child to have his vaccines and I would encourage others to get their children vaccinated too. The reason for that mumps outbreak (mentioned earlier in the post)? Let me tell you.
Immunity doesn’t necessarily last forever, whether from infection or inoculation. In an unvaccinated population, the disease is going around and people who have had it (and happened to survive) are re-exposed every now and then, which boosts their immune system – while those who haven’t yet had it are the ones allowing the disease to continue to exist in the population.
In a vaccinated population, the disease is not “going around” – no one has it, it can’t spread, so it doesn’t make an appearance. Immunity wanes in that population. If someone more at risk – for example, an unvaccinated or unexposed person – goes to a population in which the disease is active, they can bring the infection back to their home community, the vaccinated population.
Because their immunity hasn’t been “topped up”, they are at a greater risk of contracting the illness now that it has been brought back into their population by a susceptible person.
So, get your boosters too!
Thanks for reading!