It’s time to ditch the anti-vaccination anti-science rhetoric

Do you know why parents are loathe to vaccinate their children? How many of the vaccines in the childhood immunization schedule come with a note of warning telling parents that a given vaccine could…

It’s time to ditch the anti-vaccination anti-science rhetoric

Do you know why parents are loathe to vaccinate their children? How many of the vaccines in the childhood immunization schedule come with a note of warning telling parents that a given vaccine could cause a medical complication that may warrant a close examination?

We’re talking autoimmune disorders. And when it comes to this condition, recommendations vary depending on the region of the country and on medical history. But there are a number of warning signs that point to the possibility of a harmful reaction.

When the CDC first published the first guidelines on immunizations for children in 1971, it noted that nearly all infants (90 percent) appeared to have an atopic dermatitis, which was caused by allergic reactions to about a third of the vaccinations being recommended. In 2009, the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its warnings, but many other warnings were relaxed as well.

The culprit for 80 percent of children experiencing a reaction to one or more vaccines has always been childhood vaccines — two shots are not enough to wipe out the risk of a serious reaction. Unfortunately, that isn’t a good reason to stop vaccinating your children.

What about the idea that we’re overloaded with vaccines? Several peer-reviewed studies suggest that kids are receiving too many vaccines at once, with 60 or more in the first eight years of life. They’re also consuming multiple doses of a single vaccine. When you have a more concentrated dose of a single vaccine, the risk of a major adverse reaction is lower.

But the best science is available when it comes to advising parents on risk. In January, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that there is no overlap between two tests that measures the effectiveness of vaccines: the central nervous system infection test called the CMV test and the tetanus toxoid test. The work demonstrated a high level of confidence in the results of both vaccines; a different test only gave a marginally higher confidence in the results of vaccines.

Overall, immunization against diseases like measles and polio hasn’t dramatically improved since the time the CDC and AAP first issued immunization guidelines decades ago. And the new CDC and AAP recommendations show that the long-term goal of eradicating preventable diseases like polio — and vaccinating everyone from newborns to adults — remains a pressing need.

In many countries, such as India, polio infection is still a big problem, with cases at the highest levels in 40 years. However, over the last decade, it’s declined in almost every country because of widespread vaccination. Vaccinating children is no longer a “get out of jail free” card: if you choose not to vaccinate your children, you are doing them a grave disservice.

For many kids, the negative health effects from toxic exposures can lead to brain damage and even death. Kids can pass the immunity they have from childhood diseases on to their offspring.

The most obvious risk: anti-vaccination politics may have infected Congress. The issues raised by people afraid of vaccines may have changed since the 1970s, when the federal government revised its policy. But the problems with toxic exposures inside government are largely unchanged.

A significant number of children were admitted to hospitals in the United States with life-threatening allergies to food and other substances in 2010, while nearly half of the patients admitted to the emergency room from 2007 to 2009 had allergy-related issues, as the CDC’s National Allergy Monitoring System shows. And for some kids, allergies caused by vaccines do lead to health problems.

After three generations of more research, the science is clear that vaccinations are the best way to reduce health risks. According to a recent report by the Journal of the American Medical Association, nearly 1,100 children were treated in hospital emergency rooms for spontaneous abortions from 1991 to 2004 after receiving vaccines. But more than six out of 10 of these incidents were deemed “trace” — it could have been anything.

The only question is whether there will be enough vaccine manufacturers on the market to continue to keep providing the list of recommended vaccines to infants and those requiring the thimerosal vaccine booster shot as a precaution. To stave off significant health threats, we need everyone — parents, doctors, and policymakers — to understand the benefits of vaccines and tell their families about those benefits.

This post originally appeared on boston.com

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