Columns / Discourse / February 13, 2013

An ounce of prevention: the importance of vaccines

Last week, on far ends on the planet, two curious events occurred.

In Nigeria, nine women were killed by terrorists in the course of their duties trying to vaccinate children against polio.

In the United States, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial entitled “Rolling Back the War on Vaccines” detailing falling vaccination rates throughout the U.S. and Western Europe.

Why is this? Are American parents being threatened by radical Islamists if they take their kids to the doctor like their counterparts in Nigeria?

No, we have no need of terrorists to stop us from vaccinating our children. We are perfectly capable of inflicting that upon ourselves, thank you very much.

Nervous American parents, generally college-educated, middle-class and acting with the best of intentions, have been opting out of getting their children their required vaccinations are ever-increasing rates.

Washington is actually leading the country in opt-out rates, whereas Tennessee and Alabama are near the bottom. That the South is leading the country in a public health indicator is should be a tip-off that something odd is going on.

At the root of this trend is a mish-mash of discredited conspiracy theories involving Big Pharma and their willing accomplices in government and in medicine hiding or distorting the negative impact common vaccinations have on children’s health. Central to this is the idea that vaccines are the cause of autism.

Let’s make one thing extremely clear before going any further: there is no link between autism and vaccines and there never has been. The theory stems from a 1998 article published in a British medical journal which was later retracted because of numerous ethics violations on the part of the researcher. A study of some 12,000 (!) peer-reviewed articles published since the nineties on the topic failed to find any correlation between autism and vaccines. Another study of literally every child born in Denmark for seven years also failed to find any connection.

It has become so discredited at this point that most leading scientific organizations have concluded further studies on the topic are a waste of scarce research dollars. Yet the idea stubbornly hangs on and retains enough credibility that Congress held a hearing on the topic not too long ago that can really only be described as a national embarrassment.

The anti-vaccine crowd used to hold that thimerosal, an additive, had triggered the rise in autism rates. After it was eliminated in 2001 without the slightest effect on autism rates, the antivaxxers deftly changed course and asserted that the problem is actually that  vaccines trigger a genetic cellular disorder in some children. It is surprising that they didn’t get whiplash after how quickly they shifted positions.

It reminds one of the apocyrpochal story of the Marxist talking to a his capitalist friend who says, “Yes, yes, your ideas may be working very well in practice. But how well do they work in theory?” Empirical evidence and the anti-vaccine movement seldom come into contact.

Maintaining that the moon landing was faked or that the CIA killed JFK may be absurd, but people who hold such views are hardly endangering others. Entertaining conspiracy theories about vaccines, though, is another story.

Refusing to vaccinate your child is a profoundly selfish act because of the populations you are harming. Who, after all, relies on society’s herd immunity? Newborns, children with serious medical conditions such as leukemia who cannot handle vaccinations, organ transplant patients on immuno-suppresents, and those in whom vaccines simply fail to work are some of the main affected categories.

A society that is willing to endanger the lives of children with leukemia because of something they read of the internet is a society that has some soul-searching to do. Diseases that were once virtually eradicated, such as whooping cough and measles, have been making comebacks in the industrialized world because of the breakdown in herd immunity and children are dying needlessly because of it.

If your life is threatened by terrorists for getting your child vaccinated, you may be better off not getting the shot. If that is not the case, though, you have no excuse.

Matt Barry
Matt Barry is a senior majoring in international relations and double minoring in economics and German. This is his third year working for TKS, having served previously as discourse editor. He has worked for such organizations as the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Premier Tourism Marketing and the Council on American Islamic Relations-Chicago, where his work appeared in such publications as Leisure Group Travel, Ski & Ride Club Guide and The Chicago Monitor. Matt has written his political opinion column, "The Voice of Reason," weekly for three years, which finished in first place at the 2012 Illinois College Press Association conference and was also recognized at the 2013 conference.

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Matt Barry
Matt Barry is a senior majoring in international relations and double minoring in economics and German. This is his third year working for TKS, having served previously as discourse editor. He has worked for such organizations as the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Premier Tourism Marketing and the Council on American Islamic Relations-Chicago, where his work appeared in such publications as Leisure Group Travel, Ski & Ride Club Guide and The Chicago Monitor. Matt has written his political opinion column, "The Voice of Reason," weekly for three years, which finished in first place at the 2012 Illinois College Press Association conference and was also recognized at the 2013 conference.




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  • Pat

    Don’t believe everything the corporate media tells you young fella. Here are some numbers for you to contemplate;

    0.5 parts per billion (ppb) mercury = Kills human neuroblastoma cells (Parran et al., Toxicol Sci 2005; 86: 132-140).

    2 ppb mercury = U.S. EPA limit for drinking water (http://www.epa. gov/safewater/ contaminants/ index.html# mcls).

    20 ppb mercury = Neurite membrane structure destroyed (Leong et al., Neuroreport 2001; 12: 733-37). Think Alzheimer’s!

    200 ppb mercury = level in liquid the EPA classifies as hazardous waste based on toxicity characteristics.
    http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/hazard/tsd/mercury/regs.htm

    25,000 ppb mercury = Concentration of mercury in multi-dose, Hepatitis B vaccine vials, administered at birth from 1991-2001 in the U.S.

    50,000 ppb mercury = Concentration of mercury in multi-dose DTaP and Haemophilus B vaccine vials, administered 8 times in the 1990’s to children at 2, 4, 6, 12 and 18 months of age and currently “preservative” level mercury in multi-dose flu, meningococcal and tetanus vaccines. This can be confirmed by simply analyzing the multi-dose vials.

    • Julie

      Goodness, don’t confuse the kid with facts, he’s on a mission to save the world, one vaccine at a time!

      Meanwhile. Here’s some light reading.
      http://www.nature.com/srep/2013/130204/srep01199/full/srep01199.html

    • Darwy

      The usual fear mongering is occurring, I see.

      Using the EPA guideline for drinking water exposure to try to say vaccines aren’t safe is rather idiotic.

      You don’t drink vaccines. You’re not drinking ~64 oz of vaccines each day. Water is a chronic exposure source, thus the allowable limits for ANY pollutant is small.

      Likewise, you cannot use a cell line study to determine whole organism toxicity. In a cell line study, the neuroblastoma cells are essentially sitting in a bath of thimerosal; this does not occur during vaccinations. The cell line has no possibility of waste removal or dilution from the bloodstream.

      Thimerosal is readily excreted via the fecal route, but this is not accounted for in a simple cell line study.

      Furthermore, Thimerosal != Mercury. A compound is not an element, so (again) attempting to use the EPA regulations for an element is not applicable. If this were true, we would all explode upon eating salt, since sodium explodes upon contact with water.

  • Steve Michaels

    The reason why people are opting out of vaccines is because they generally don’t work and they carry unacceptable risks. The US education system is designed to dumb down are kids and enforce conformity and compliance. People with a higher degree of education tend to be able to make their own choices based on their own research and don’t worship at the altar of the “experts”. I think you will find that the states with the highest number of opt outs also have a higher percentage of university degrees as well.

    I love the way you say that these “theories” are discredited. They are not. The studies which “prove” them wrong are not double blind RCT between vaccinated and unvaccinated groups and placebos used in concurrent studies are generally not biologically inert. In other words, they are junk science designed specifically to not find certain results.

    As far as your Danish study, yes this is the primary pillar of the “proof” that there is no link between vaccines and autism. So where is Paol Thorsen, the CDC employed researcher who was a key author of study? Oh yes, he’s on America’s FBI Most Wanted list for embezzling a sizable portion of the funding for the study. Oh, and as for the study itself, a couple of years into the study, they changed the definition of autism diagnosis. At the beginning of the study, only children diagnosed AND needing inpatient hospital care were defined as autistic. In the end every clinical diagnosis was counted. When the results were edited to maintain a consistent definition throughout the time frames, autism rates actually declined significantly.

    Do your homework because when you spout without foundation, you end up looking foolish.

    • Darwy

      A classic example of confusing correlation with causation, ” I think you will find that the states with the highest number of opt outs also have a higher percentage of university degrees as well.”

      This is the crux of the anti-vaxxer – the failure to understand the concept that correlation does not equal causation.

      The placebo studies performed are indeed valid and they are more than adequate, despite your protestations.

      Poul Thorsen is living in Denmark (imagine that – a Danish national living in his own country). If the US wished to extradite him, it would only take delivering paperwork to Danish authorities. Trying to paint him as a fugitive from justice merely makes you appear desperate.

      “Do your homework because when you spout without foundation, you end up looking foolish”

      Hi Pot, meet Kettle. He’s so glad to see you!



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