Hi, I’m Joe. I am a new(ish) dad, overwhelmed by things to learn about having a baby. One of the things that never really crossed my mind before we had a baby was the topic of vaccination. Vaccination pros and cons are something that every couple (and people in general) struggle to learn about honestly and objectively.
In the UK, the NHS (National Health Service) default vaccination schedule consists of about 13 vaccines within a year of birth. Was I really about to let someone just stick my baby with unknown chemicals over and over? Obviously, I had to learn a bit more about the topic.
In general, I’m a pretty conventional guy. But, I have always been an advocate of alternative therapies where they are beneficial. Drugs ought to be a last resort, after other interventions such as lifestyle changes, dietary changes, and other remedies either have failed already or where the risk to benefit ratio is on the side of conventional medicine. For instance, in the fire service I’ve been called out to amputations – arnica won’t cut it in that sort of situation.
Personally, I don’t think the world is out to get me – call me naive, but I just don’t. Medicine seems to save a lot of people, and the figures seem to show this to be the case, and in many cases ignoring modern medicine seems to have a worse outcome than accepting it.
But nonetheless, vaccines can sound quite scary, and they did to me before I did the research myself. The fact is that if you go to a search engine, like Google, and enter the query “are vaccines effective” you WON’T get an unbiased answer. And no, it’s not what you think, either – nearly all of the top results come from alternative health authorities, arguing that vaccines are the Devil’s work, they’re full of toxins and are worthless and ineffective.
But there was something niggling in the back of my mind, the question of “why?”. Why are they so widely used if they’re so useless? Why, if they’re so poisonous, do we not have major outbreaks of illness and disease that are strongly correlated with vaccine use? Are they really that bad?
The main target of vaccine critics is the content of the shots themselves – namely things like mercury, aluminium, formaldehyde, scary-sounding chemicals and genuine poisons.
Critics also question their efficacy, stating that diseases were on the way out before their introduction to the population. If diseases were declining anyway, then why bother with the potentially unsafe vaccine?
Vaccines are a relatively new technology – they’ve been around for quite a long time in a more primitive form, but the mass-application of shots that we have nowadays is quite new. In folk science, they are scary and bizarre drugs. But in medical terms, they are well understood and thought to be very safe.
So what I want to do is look at some of the pros and cons of vaccines as I understand them – and I’ll elaborate a little bit on each point. You can already tell, I’m pro-vaccine myself, so this article may be a bit biased.
But remember, I have no scientific career to protect, I have no product to sell – I am not invested in any of this. I just did the reading and this is what I have come to understand. It doesn’t hurt my bottom line either way.
Vaccination Pros and Cons
The pros of vaccines are easy to list, so I’m going to start with them. You might disagree, but the data seems to show that this is the case. I’ll try to briefly list some counterarguments to the pros as I go along, to address any objections you might have.
Easy to administer.
They are cheap to manufacture and distribute, and they tend to have a fairly stable shelf life so they can be distributed to at-risk populations and people in developing countries much more easily than ongoing medical treatment.
A vaccination drive can decrease the risk to large populations very easily, even those who wouldn’t usually be able to routinely see a doctor or have access to other conventional healthcare.
The data quite clearly show that the introduction of vaccines leads to a decline in the incidence of the disease immunised against. This is one of the major objections listed by critics – that vaccines are not, in fact, effective against diseases.
Why, they ask, do you need to have a seasonal ‘flu vaccine every season? (I know you know the answer to that question, so I won’t labour the point!).
A favourite counterargument is to demonstrate that the decline in diseases was underway before the introduction of the vaccine, but a little analysis tends to show that this is not the case.
Often, a bit of misinformation is in play here – the graph may show the decline in death from measles, for instance, which is largely due to improved medical care and treatment for patients. But if you look at the figures showing the actual incidence of measles, then the effect of the vaccine is striking.
Very few side effects
Vaccines are generally very safe. There are some side effects, but on the whole, the side effects are minor and much preferable to, for instance, polio.
They save lives
The WHO estimates that about 1 million people are saved from death per year because of vaccines. That seems like a worthwhile initiative to me.
I’m biased towards vaccines, but I’ll try to be honest – so to that end, here are a few points against vaccines:
There are harmful ingredients, in some vaccines. The old culprit is mercury – Thiomersal. However, mercury is not routinely used in any vaccines anymore (apart from multi-dose ‘flu vaccines). Not to mention that the amount of mercury in the ‘flu vaccine is less than you’d get from one-third of a can of tuna.
Other ingredients, such as aluminum, are known to cause injury – but the dose makes the poison in these cases. The tiny amount of aluminum or formaldehyde or whatever else is very unlikely to make you or your children ill. Even if it does, it’s likely to be noticed, and would probably be discontinued pretty quickly.
A bit late, if you are unfortunate enough to suffer from the side effects, but a small risk on the whole.
Some vaccines DO cause side effects. The old rotavirus vaccine was found to cause intussusception in about 1/10000 children. The good thing is that when a serious side effect is noted, the vaccine is pulled from circulation. This was the case with the rotavirus vaccine I mentioned before. In future, another vaccine may be found to cause side effects – and, no doubt, it will be discontinued straight away.
Some vaccines are made using cells cultured from foetuses aborted in the 1960s, which some people find objectionable. Specifically, the Catholic Church has in the past warned against using any vaccines that are associated with abortion.
Other vaccines are prepared using cells from other animals, which vegetarians and vegans may find objectionable. It’s worth noting, however, that the vaccines themselves are unlikely to contain anything substantial from these foetal or animal cells.
Critics will note that vaccines are produced by companies whose main aim is to produce a profit. This may lead one to question whether pharmaceutical companies have our best interests at heart.
Do they necessarily produce safe, effective and worthwhile vaccines? Would they continue to do so if it meant their profit margins were decreased? The data suggest that vaccines are safe and effective, but this may not always be the case.
The point being…
It’s clear that I am in favour of vaccination, on the whole. I don’t mean to suggest that it is a perfect industry with no room for improvement. It’s also not the only solution to disease, as shown in the graphs that critics of vaccines like to produce.
Obviously better sanitation, healthcare, diet and lifestyle lead to a decrease in the incidence of disease and the mortality associated with diseases. However, it is unlikely to eradicate a disease entirely, in the way that vaccines have done for smallpox.
It should also be clear that vaccination isn’t a treatment for a disease. Rather, it’s a tool for decreasing the incidence of disease, just like improved sanitation. That’s what makes it such a powerful thing, in my opinion.
I am quite convinced of the efficacy of vaccines, and their safety, but it all relies on you too. Without the vast majority of the population agreeing to vaccinate, then they become much less useful. Diseases can still propagate, and those for whom vaccination had less effect are still at risk.
This is why I think it’s important to show both sides of the argument as honestly as possible. I hope this has inspired you to look into the subject further, especially if you were skeptical, to begin with.
About The Guest Contributor
Joe Lionel is the owner of KitsToys.co.uk – a website for new parents, especially dads, to learn about baby stuff from a new and clueless parent.
I hope you found this article to be interesting and informative.
Have a question or concern? Leave a message below and I will get back to you as soon as possible.