Vaccines or no vaccines, that is the question.
This has been the question for quite some time in the medical community ever since the 1800s. As vaccinations for diseases as deadly as smallpox have evolved, protesters and anti-vaccination groups sprung up, many dubbing the medical advancement as unorthodox. Over the past couple hundred years, religion and culture still remain as an underlying reason for many individuals’ distaste for vaccinations. However, with the universal advancement of education, specifically in medicine, and the incredible access of studies from credible and non-credible sources on the internet, many families loath vaccinations because they believe that they are unsafe.
The result: an ongoing debate between medical practitioners, researchers, and parents on the safety of vaccinations. Are they safe or unsafe?
Turns out, they’re asking the wrong question.
According to a Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia article titled, “Vaccine Safety: Are Vaccines Safe?” “…few things meet the definition of “‘harmless.’” The article points out that that even the everyday activities we take for granted possess some danger. “Every year in the United States, 350 people are killed in bath or shower-related accidents, 200 people are killed when food lodges in their windpipe, and 100 people are struck and killed by lightning.” (“Vaccine Safety: Are Vaccines Safe?”)
Consequently, it is absurd to even attempt to determine the safety of vaccines as there is an inevitable risk to anything and everything we do.
As the article hinted at, the question we as a community should ask ourselves when considering vaccinations is, do the benefits of vaccinations outweigh their risks?
More often than not, the answer to this question is yes.
Take polio for instance. In the early 1950s, it was one of the most feared diseases in various countries, including the U.S.. Every year in the U.S., polio outbreaks would induce about 15,000 cases of paralysis. According to an article titled, “History of Polio,” , in 1988, polio paralyzed more than 1000 children worldwide everyday. However, thanks to Dr. Jonas Salk, who recognized that injecting killed/inactivated strains of the poliovirus into individuals reduced their chance of contracting the disease, an effective method to combat this epidemic emerged.
Critics will most likely use the side effects of the polio vaccine — extreme drowsiness, joint pain, redness or swelling at the site of infection, or vomiting — as justification that injecting strains of the poliovirus promotes exposure to the virus and consequent sickness. However, that is where they lack understanding of the human immune system. Immunity, or the body’s ability to fight the spread of pathogens that enter the body, is only strong when the body is exposed to and familiar with the particular disease-causing microorganism. This exposure and familiarity initiates the production of antibodies specific to the pathogen — in this case, poliovirus. So, the next time poliovirus enters the body of the vaccinated individual, the antibodies specific to poliovirus will activate and be prepared to end any infection before it noticeably begins.
It is important to understand that vaccines are constantly monitored for safety and that like any medication, there are always side effects that may develop for only a few days. However, choosing not to vaccinate in order to avoid the advent of these minor side effects is irrational. The history of the Polio epidemic demonstrates how greatly the scale is tipped towards the benefits of vaccinations compared to its risks. According to the “The History of Polio” article, as a part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, more than 2.5 billion children have been vaccinated due to the cooperation and commitment of 200 countries, 20 million volunteers, and an international investment of 11 billion U.S. Dollars.
The consequence: there are only three countries with continued polio transmission, the global incidence of polio has dropped by 99%, and certain, more specific strains of the polio vaccine have even been eradicated as well!
There is no coincidence that Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria all are Polio transmission centers while polio has been eradicated from the rest of the world. According to an article titled, “Explainer: Why Polio Remains Endemic In Afghanistan, Pakistan, And Nigeria,” these three countries are influenced by militant groups like the Taliban and Boko Haram which believe that these vaccinations are “un-Islamic” and thus oppose “the will of God.” While the U.N. has initiated a drive to encourage preventative measures in these countries, as long as Polio remains in these countries, no child, even in a Polio-free country, is safe from Polio.
For this reason, I urge individuals to take the time and understand vaccines — the history, the science, and the results. If you do so, you’ll arrive at the same conclusion every time.