30 November 2018
Anti-vaccines: The Overprotective Mother
This essay attempts to spread awareness of the importance of getting vaccinated and why everyone should not only get vaccinated to protect themselves but to also protect those that cannot get vaccinated because of autoimmune issues or other existing ailments. Should vaccines be required by all citizens of the United States? Vaccinations should be required by everyone! When choosing to not vaccinate a child, the parents not only put them at a greater risk of acquiring a life-threatening disease, but they put themselves and everyone who interacts with the child at risk, even if vaccinated.
If someone receives the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine, he or she has protection (antibodies and memory cells) specific for the pathogens (antigen) that can cause these illnesses. The immune system contains memory cells, a long-lived lymphocyte (white blood cell) capable of responding to a specific antigen (pathogen) on its reintroduction, long after the exposure that prompted its production. Memory cells allow the body’s immune system to recognize, locate, and phagocytize (the ingestion of pathogens or other material by phagocytes, white blood cells, leads to the destruction of pathogen or material) pathogens quicker after the first exposure to the pathogen. Antibodies from vaccines are not permanent; as time passes, the body slowly loses the antibodies acquired from the vaccine. Booster shots are recommended every 10 years to reintroduce the antigen to the immune system to initiate the production of antibodies and memory cells.
By choosing not to vaccinate a child with the MMR vaccine, the parent puts their child at increased risk of contracting measles, mumps, or rubella. Even if the parent has been vaccinated for the three illnesses, the child can increase the parent’s risk of contracting them. For example, a pregnant mother, who was vaccinated with the MMR vaccine as a child, decides not to vaccinate her two-year-old child because she believes vaccines are linked to autism. Her child then contracts Rubella from another child at daycare. Mom doesn’t know that the virus infecting her child had mutated (antigen change) and is now a new strain of Rubella that mom has no antibodies for. The new strain is passed from the child to his mom through direct contact. Rubella can, unfortunately, pass from the mom to the fetus and cause the fetus to die. Mutations occurring in unvaccinated individuals can create unknown strains of disease that we already have vaccines for, putting vaccinated people at risk of acquiring the disease. If everyone is now at risk and the disease is highly contagious, an epidemic can start and manifest into a pandemic.
A parent may argue that they don’t want to give their child a vaccination because they heard that it was linked to autism. In the 1990s parents, all over the United States were faced with an issue. The medical solution that protected them from some of the scariest and deadliest diseases contained ingredients that were known to be harmful to humans. The one questioned the most, thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used to prevent contamination of multidose vials of vaccines. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a British study was to blame for the hysteria, “These parents’ beliefs and observations were reinforced by a small study of bowel disease and autism, published by Wakefield and his colleagues in 1998 (Wakefield et al 1998). The study’s authors suggested that there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. This study did not include scientific testing to find out if there was a link.” (NICHD) In 1999, thimerosal was removed from some vaccine and reduced to trace amounts in others. That same year in 1999, a study led by Taylor and his colleagues (Taylor et al 1999) was conducted to combat the 1998 Wakefield study that claimed to have found a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism. The study concluded that “The number of ASD cases had increased steadily since 1979, but there was no sharp increase in the number of cases after doctors started using the MMR vaccine in 1988.” (NICHD) and if there as a link between the MMR and autism, “then a greater number of children who had been vaccinated throughout the region would have ASD.” (NICHD)
Vaccines can contain either live organisms that have lost their ability to cause disease but still spark an immune response (attenuated “live” vaccine), dead organism (inactivated vaccine), or toxoid, which is a chemically modified toxin produced by an organism but is no longer toxic. Some parents may be uncomfortable with the idea of injecting their child with live cells that are known to cause serious illnesses. Even though they have lost their virulence (ability to cause disease) there is a small chance that they can mutate and infect the person receiving the shot. Attenuated vaccines are the most dangerous because it contains live which have the potential to mutate. Inactivated vaccines use dead cells so there is no chance for the cells to replicate and cause disease. Toxoid vaccines have no living cells at all so there’s also no chance of disease.
One concern about making vaccines a requirement by everyone, in the United States, is the cost. For some health insurance covers most or all the cost. But according to the CDC, 28.9 million persons from the age of 18-64 are uninsured in the United States. That means 28.9 million people will have to find their own way to cover the costs. Those under the age of 19 may be eligible for free vaccines, with The Vaccines for Children Program (VFC), if they meet the qualifications. The qualifications are as followed according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “qualify for Medicaid, don’t have insurance or can’t afford out-of-pocket insurance costs for vaccines, or are Native American or Alaskan Native” (“How to Pay”). Those who are 19 years of age and older, can check with the state health department to find out where the federally funded health centers are located. The federally funded health centers offer vaccine based on income. Pharmaceutical stores like CVS and Walgreens offer free flu shots during flu season.
Vaccines have been around since 1796 and have played a vital role in controlling, combating, and even eradicating infectious diseases. Since their introduction, they have nearly doubled the life expectancy of adults in the United States by minimizing the number of susceptible hosts. More of an effort should be taken to inform the public on how vaccines work, the benefits they give, and the potential dangers of not vaccinating.
“Autism and the MMR Vaccine; the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). (Medical Research Update).” The Free Library, www.thefreelibrary.com/Autism+and+the+MMR+vaccine%3b+the+National+Institute+of+Child+Health…-a084341786.”National Center for Health Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 Mar. 2017, www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/health-insurance.htm.
Taylor B, Miller E, Farrington CP et al. (1999). Autism and measles, mumps, rubella vaccine: no epidemiological evidence of for a causal association. Lancet, 353:20262029.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “How to Pay.” Vaccines.gov, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 11 Oct. 2006, www.vaccines.gov/getting/pay/index.html.