To vaccinate, or not to vaccinate?

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To vaccinate, or not to vaccinate?

To vaccinate, or not to vaccinate? Answer your questions with science and data, not rumours and theories.

This article’s contents:

  • Introduction
  • Facts on Measles
  • Herd Immunity
  • 2 Common concerns about vaccines
  • Reactions to vaccines

Introduction

“Every family unit is unique and every parent is doing what they believe is best for their child” – this is one of my practice principles and underpins the support and personal advice I give to my clients.

I see a few clients who have chosen not to vaccinate their children, and I support them.  I know that many have wrestled with the decision.  Also for many of them, their children are reasonably well protected by the “herd immunity” provided by the vaccinated children around them – for which they depend, paradoxically, on other parents choosing to immunise.

However, I do have concerns – primarily that some of those decisions are based on biased information, because 1) most of us have not seen the effects of the diseases we vaccinate against, and therefore do not have an accurate idea of the danger they present; and 2) much of the research people do these days is on the internet, which tends to encourage fears and conspiracy theories.

Please make your decision based on facts and science, not fear.  I would discourage people from not vaccinating at all; if you are considering that, rather consider vaccinating for only the most dangerous diseases.  My children have received the full recommended vaccination schedule and have had additional vaccines I consider valuable; please feel free to ask me questions!

In the wake of the recent measles outbreak in California, I thought I’d point out the problems associated with not vaccinating, and highlight the dangers of these diseases, using measles as an example.

Facts about measles

“Parents are not scared of the disease because they’ve never seen it”, said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and an attending physician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Division of Infectious Diseases.

  • Dangerous: Death rates can be as high as 10% of those infected (although much lower in people with good nutrition and health care); a significant proportion of survivors are left with long term impairment such as blindness or brain damage. Around 400 people a day still die from measles. Unvaccinated children under the age of 5 are most at risk.
  • Contagious: Measles is one of the most contagious diseases known.
  • Vaccines are effective: CDC figures show that the rate of infection in the US dropped from about 500,000 cases a year in the 1950s to zero after the introduction of the measles vaccine in the 1960’s; WHO estimates that during the period 2000-2013 measles vaccination programmes prevented 15.6 million deaths.

(Information from: WHO Facts on Measles)
Most of the other diseases we routinely vaccinate against are contagious and potentially deadly.  

Vaccines work

“Herd Immunity”

“This outbreak is occurring because a critical number of people are choosing not to vaccinate their children,” said Dr. Paul Offit

The effectiveness of vaccination programmes is highest when the vaccinated individuals are over a certain proportion of the population.  When this is the case infection rates drop rapidly because the disease is not easily spread through the population, and this is known as “Herd Immunity”.  The threshold is different for each disease (85-95% for measles).
(Information from: Wikipedia – Herd immunity)

Two common concerns about vaccines

Can vaccines be linked to autism spectrum disorders?

In 1998 Andrew Wakefield, a doctor in the UK, published a research paper linking the MMR vaccine to the development of Autism Spectrum disorders.  This paper was found to be fraudulent and was later retracted, but the damage has been difficult to reverse; rumours and misgivings about the MMR vaccine and vaccines in general persist.

The facts about Wakefield’s research:

(Information from: Wikipedia – MMR Vaccine controversy)

 Are we giving too many vaccines, too young?

Other rumours and fears commonly seen on the internet centre around the number of vaccinations which our children receive; are they all necessary? Do we give them too young? Does giving multiple vaccinations at once increase the risks?  Are pharmaceutical companies providing ever more vaccines just to boost their profits?

Here is some input on these concerns:

  • Antigens are the protein markers our immune systems respond to in order to produce antibodies to fight disease and build immunity. Although more vaccines are being given than ever before, improvements in the vaccines mean that the number of antigens a child is exposed to  by the 2013 vaccination schedule is between 5 and 10% of the number of antigens provided by vaccination schedules in the late 1980’s (CDC – Vaccine Safety, Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics).
  • The vaccine schedule produces a total of about 30 antibodies. It is estimated that (a) each infant has the theoretical capacity to respond to about 10,000 vaccines at any one time and (b) if the 11 routinely recommended vaccines were administered together, the immune system would need to use only about 0.1% of its capacity to process them [Offit et al, 2003 Addressing Parents’ Concerns… ].
  • We vaccinate young because, for many diseases, babies under the age of 12 months are have the highest risk profile. Delaying vaccines puts your child at higher risk.
  • I find that vaccinating older children is much more traumatic,as they can anticipate and are fearful and develop needle phobias.
  • Spreading/separating vaccines requires more visits to the clinic,more injections, more cost, more trauma for child and parent, and therefore typically more vaccinations missed.

Extensive reviews of multiple research results have found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

A baby’s immune system is capable of processing thousands of times more antigens than the vaccination schedule exposes them to.

Although more vaccines are being given today, improvements in the vaccines mean that the schedule exposes us to less than 10% of the antigens generated by older vaccination schedules.

Reactions to vaccines

I have been vaccinating at Thula and in my home practice 4-5 days a week since 2005, and I am often asked about the side-effects of vaccinations.

As you’d expect, side-effects vary by vaccine.  There are a number of vaccines for which I have never had side-effects reported.

Looking at those vaccines where I do see side-effects fairly regularly I estimate, based on feedback from my parents, that:

  • +/-50% of babies experience no noticeable side-effects
  • +/-45% experience minor side-effects: eg. they are grumpy/irritable and/or run a mild fever  for a few hours and/or have a mild inflammation at the injection site.
  • A small number (<5%) of babies experience more significant side-effects: moderate to severe inflammation at the injection site and/or a higher fever for a day or two and/or crying for a couple of hours.
  • I have not had a severe reaction to a vaccine, requiring hospitalisation or longterm sequelae.

Remember that a strong reaction to a vaccine probably indicates that your baby would also react badly to the disease itself.

Useful links

Oxford Vaccine Group – http://www.ovg.ox.ac.uk/

World Health Organisation- http://www.who.int/topics/immunization/en/, http://www.who.int/topics/vaccines/en/

Centers for Disease Control – http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/index.html

Vaccine Education Center, Children’s hospital of Philadelphia – http://vec.chop.edu/service/vaccine-education-center/home.html



By |2017-05-10T21:11:19+00:00February 8th, 2015|Advice, Useful Link, Vaccinations|0 Comments

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