It has been said that no great gift comes to mankind that is not accompanied by a corresponding curse. With vaccines, the “curse” is their known potential for reactions and side effects, some serious and even fatal, in certain susceptible individuals. This is nothing new. We have known, perhaps back to before recorded medical history, that sometimes our treatments can have ill effects. The litmus test in determining whether a treatment is worthwhile is what is called the “risk to benefit ratio”. We weigh the real and potential benefits against the real and potential risks. This assessment is often a subjective one. After all, how do we determine just how much risk and how much benefit a treatment must have in order to embrace it? If one person is harmed but 10 benefit, is that acceptable? What if the number who benefit is 1000, 10,000, or more? The factors to be considered are legion: how bad is the disease, how severe the side effects of treatment, how real the benefits, what are the costs of prevention versus treatment, the impact on society, and on, and on. In some circumstances, deciding where this line lies can require the wisdom of Solomon. This is not the case with vaccination.
The constant struggle against disease takes two forms: prevention and treatment. The evolution of proper sanitation, provision of clean water, safe food, and improved personal hygiene have been essential to prevention. With Edward Jenner’s discovery of the benefits of vaccination, using an innocuous virus, cow pox, to stimulate an immune response and protection against a deadly disease, small pox, the age of vaccination began. As a result, many diseases that were once considered an accepted fact of life, polio, measles, mumps, and tetanus among them, are now rare, some nearly extinguished. The benefits are inarguable and few would wish to return to the days of hospital wards filled with polio patients in iron lungs and children in the throes of tetanic spasm.
The “controversy” surrounding childhood vaccination is largely contrived and exists primarily in the minds of a few, including some physicians, who refuse to accept the overwhelming body of evidence supporting the effectiveness and safety of current vaccines and vaccination schedules. There would not be any real “debate” surrounding vaccination and this article would be unnecessary if not for a thoroughly discredited article published in the British medical journal, Lancet, in 1998 by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a gastroenterologist. The supposed link between autism and children getting the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine was based on 12 patients. Lancet quickly retracted the article and Wakefield was censured because it was shown he falsified data. He was also removed from the medical register, the British equivalent to losing one’s medical license in the U.S. Despite this, the perception that vaccines are dangerous has persisted and taken on a life of its own.
The so-called “debate” is not between two opposed but equivalent factions, one for and one against vaccination. It is between main stream medicine, which supports current vaccination efforts, and a fringe element of parents and medical providers that ignore the weight of evidence, choosing instead to focus on the rare complications and side effects. That element is responsible for a recent surge in childhood illnesses, including deaths, from lowered vaccination rates. The benefits so far outweigh the risks that that the value of childhood vaccination is not really debatable. Many of the objections, when properly evaluated, are unfounded. Don’t take my word for this. Do your own due diligence. Check reputable sources. Ask your child’s pediatrician. I can assure you my children are following recommended vaccination schedules for my grandchildren.