I am admittedly irritated at the moment. My heart is beating fast, my hands are shaky and, frankly, I feel the need to slap somebody–ideally one of the executives at ABC. They have just hired Jenny McCarthy: one of the loudest anti-vaccine voices in the country.
We are already battling an avalanche of misinformation about vaccines. Slowly, we are chipping away at the myths and misconceptions. Just when I start to feel good about the issue, McCarthy gets a very tall soapbox to stand on. One, if I wasn’t a professional, I’d like to shove her right off of.
Here’s what most doctors think about the whole vaccine controversy.
There isn’t one.
If you are a believer in the power of scientific evidence you understand that the questions of vaccine safety have been answered repeatedly and definitively.
Vaccines have been the absolute greatest medical accomplishment of modern times. We are now able to prevent many diseases that years ago would routinely kill or cripple our children. We have virtually eradicated polio and small pox–as in wiped them off the face of the earth. Ask a sixty-something year old with a shriveled up leg and daily pain what she thinks of vaccines. I bet she would tell you she wished they had been around before she nearly died from polio.
We all want what’s best for our kids. In fact, until I had kids of my own, I had no idea what real worry was. I dutifully brush their teeth, slather them in sunscreen and double-check their seat belts.
“But,” you say astutely. “Seat belts can kill.”
Yes, they can. If a collision happens just so and the child is strapped just so, the seat belt could cause life threatening internal injuries. But guess what? We all keep clicking.
We buckle those belts because we understand that even though they are not perfect, that there is a miniscule risk of harm from them, seat belts save lives. Period.
The exact same argument can be made for vaccines. No intervention is perfect but, like seat belts, the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks.
Perhaps if I, as a physician, can understand the reasons people refuse to vaccinate their kids, I can systematically refute them. You should know that this slow, steady approach absolutely kills me. But, stamping my feet and screaming at the top of my lungs does not seem like the best way to establish my credibility.
Here are the top four reasons parents give when asked why they choose not to vaccinate their children. Just below you will see my response. There are endless references, studies and bibliographies to confirm any of these statements. They are NOT based solely on my opinion.
1. “MMR Causes Autism”
No, it doesn’t. Andrew Wakefield’s study was refuted, exposed as fraudulent, and retracted. He not only altered scientific data, but he profited from this lie financially. As a result of his shameful actions, thousands of parents stopped giving their children MMR. Measles outbreaks happened and children died.
2. “Thimerosal causes Autism”
No, it doesn’t. Dozens of studies have compared thimerosal-free with thimerosal-containing vaccines. No correlation, to date, has been found between the administration of thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.
“All these vaccines are too much for my baby’s immune system.”
No, they are not. In 1980 just seven vaccines contained 3000 antigens (bits of proteins from bacteria and viruses.) Today, in all of the vaccines recommended for the first two years of life, there are less than 200 such antigens. Thanks to advanced manufacturing and the elimination of small pox, we are giving more vaccines while exposing children to fewer antigens.
3. “I’ve never heard of some of these diseases. Are these vaccines even necessary?”
Yes, they are. The reason we hear little of vaccine preventable diseases now is because of vaccines. This argument is like saying that because there are fewer motor vehicle fatalities, seat belts are no longer necessary.
4. “Vaccines hurt. It kills me to see my baby in pain.”
Yes, they do. But you know what would really kill you? Your baby dying of a preventable disease.
My husband, a well-respected pediatrician, has lost sleep worrying about what to do with a parent that refuses to vaccinate their child(ren). My hot-headed, maternal response is “DO NOT LET THEM INTO THE PRACTICE!”
He is much more pensive. He believes that by slowly but surely educating families and by establishing their trust in him, he is more likely to get them to do the right thing. In our area, fewer and fewer pediatricians are allowing non-vaccinating parents into their practices. And guess who suffers? The children whose lives are risked.
It is a daily, active, exhausting, and, at times, heartbreaking conversation doctors are having.
The last thing we need is a B-list celebrity with an open platform from which to spout her ignorant and potentially dangerous opinions.
Are you nervous or flat out against vaccinating? What is your biggest reason? Do you have a story about the impact(good or bad) of a vaccine in your life? Please share it here.