I need some good, solid information about child vaccines.
January 29, 2005 5:12 PM   Subscribe

I need some good, solid information about child vaccines. Everything I read either smacks of propaganda (the anti-vaccine side) or is cheerfully oversimplified (the pro-vaccine side). Is there a moderate, objective book or website that addresses the claims of both sides?

I've been to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website. Lame.

I've read through some books, "A Shot in the Dark" among others, and they're full of gloom and doom. Perhaps rightly, but I've yet to see any pro-vaccine source address these claims and debunk them.

One claim that seems damning to vaccines is that diphtheria and measels were on the decline well before vaccinations for these diseases started, due to increased health and hygiene.
posted by recurve to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Don't most, if not all, school districts require certain vaccines before allowing a child into school? I know here in DC, they had to keep several children out of school due to lack of shots - and then they charged the parents with truancy!
posted by hobbes103 at 5:28 PM on January 29, 2005

Recurve, what exactly are you looking for? Do you want to find out whether or not vaccines are safe and reliable (which is what your post seems to indicate), or whether they and other biomedical technologies are responsible for the declines in infectious diseases during the last century (which your MI seems to indicate)?

If you're looking for the former, then you might want to take a look at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Vaccine Safety. Hopkins is one of the best public health schools in the country, so their assessment is very reliable. Their stated mission: "to provide an independent assessment of vaccines and vaccine safety to help guide decision makers and educate physicians, the public and the media about key issues surrounding the safety of vaccines." You might also check out the World Health Organization's page on vaccines.

One claim that seems damning to vaccines is that diphtheria and measels were on the decline well before vaccinations for these diseases started, due to increased health and hygiene.

The second part of this statement is true, but that is hardly "damning" to vaccines in any sense. Increased sanitation, hygiene, and nutrition were indeed responsible for most of the major declines in infectious diseases during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So it would be wrong to conclude that vaccines or therapeutics were totally responsible for their decline. But this does not mean that they have not played an important role in reducing (as is the case with diptheria and other childhood diseases) or eradicating (as with smallpox) infectious diseases. Anyone who argues that vaccines are not a vital component of disease prevention is just plain wrong.

If you want to learn more about this topic, you should look into the work of Thomas McKeown. He was the first person to present the argument that better nutrition and hygiene, and not medical technologies, were responsible for major improvements in public health. But he certainly was no anti-vaccinationist. A brief and clear introduction to his work can be found here.
posted by googly at 6:01 PM on January 29, 2005

recurve: The first time you see a nineteen year old with subacute sclerosing pan-encephalitis, the only thing you'll want to be damning are the damnably stupid people who don't vaccinate their kids.

What's not to be cheerful about? Get your kids vaccinated. They won't get awful diseases. Simple.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:01 PM on January 29, 2005

Well, firstly, I hardly see that claim against diptheria and measles as damning. No matter how clean the world has become, the precipitous fall in incidence of these diseases is clearly due to effective vaccination programs and herd immunity. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence, from Japan for example, that even switching from combined vaccines (ie MMR and DTP) to single antigen vaccines has led to decreased rates of vaccinations and increased disease.

There is a large body of well-designed studies that has failed to show any connection between current vaccination programs and negative outcomes such as autism or IBD, as is claimed by some anti-vaccine folks. See here, here, here, and here for starters. Sadly I can only link to abstracts. Unfortunately, the mass media in its failure to differentiate between well-designed studies and people who sound authoritative, may be putting all our children at risk...
posted by drpynchon at 6:07 PM on January 29, 2005

What do you mean by "oversimplified," and how is the CDC site lame?

Measles is, to most virologists, the most contagious virus in the world--if you're exposed but not immunized, you get it. The risks of measles infections isn't worth it.

If you ever take your kids anywhere, they'll need to be vaccinated. If they want to enter public school, they'll need to be vaccinated. With all the immigration and migration in the US, are you willing to risk a measles infection if someone from another country carries the virus and infects your kid?
posted by gramcracker at 7:31 PM on January 29, 2005

I think it's a social contract. If all children are vaccinated, than the risk from those diseases is minimal. Everybody wants their kid to be the one kid that doesn't have to be vaccinated, and still be safe. To be fair and to be effective, everyone has to be vaccinated. There are a few exceptions for children with life-threatening allergies.

There is some risk, albeit quite small, from vaccines, but your child is in much more danger riding in a car to the doctor's office, so buckle up.
posted by theora55 at 8:09 PM on January 29, 2005

Response by poster: I'm aware of the arguments in favor of vaccination. I'm just trying to find sources that address the arguments against it in reasonable, objective terms.

If you're aware of such a publication please let me know.

Measles is, to most virologists, the most contagious virus in the world--if you're exposed but not immunized, you get it. The risks of measles infections isn't worth it.

I've read that measles is not fatal or even very dangerous to the majority of people that become infected by it. I've read that a measels infection causes your body to react very differently than measels vaccine, thereby giving you superior protection to the virus.

I don't believe everything I read, but before I have my four month old pumped full of vaccine I want to hear from a source that I feel addresses the arguments made against it.

Thank you, googly, for those excellent links.
posted by recurve at 8:19 PM on January 29, 2005

You're right, it's not fatal or dangerous to the majority of people infected by it, recurve, but it's more fatal and dangerous than the vaccine, I'm sure.
posted by gramcracker at 8:41 PM on January 29, 2005

From the CDC Measles History: "1989-1990 Measles Epidemic: During this period, 123 people died from measles-related illnesses — almost half were under 5 years old. Ninety percent of those who lost their lives had not been vaccinated."
posted by smackfu at 8:48 PM on January 29, 2005

from wikipedia:
The recent health scare in the UK proposing a link between the combined MMR vacine (vacinating children from mumps, measles and rubella) and autism has prompted a researgence in popularity of the "measles party", where parents deliberatly infect the child with measles in order to build up the child's immunity without requiring an injection. This practise poses many health risks to the child, and has been discouraged by the UK's Department of Health.

Measles is a significant infectious disease because, while the rate of complications is not high, the disease itself is so infectious that the sheer number of people who would suffer complications in an outbreak amongst non-immune people would quickly overwhelm available hospital resources. If vaccination rates fall, the number of non-immune persons in the community rises and the risk of an outbreak of measles consequently rises.

According to the World Health Organization, measles is the leading cause of vaccine preventable childhood mortality - there are 30 million cases and 875,000 deaths caused by measles every year (http://www.who.int/vaccines-documents/DocsPDF01/www573.pdf)."

See an additional report about the MMR virus and autism: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=12421889
(which pretty much says that MMR vaccine doesn't increase a child's suseptibility to measles)

Protect your child, the children your child interacts with, and everyone else in the population. Get your child vaccinated with exactly what your physician recommends.
posted by ruwan at 8:50 PM on January 29, 2005

Recurve, could you be specific about the anti-vaccine arguments of which you'd like to see refutation? I've spent a lot of time on the CDC site, and I have to say that I think it does a great job of refuting most arguments I've heard. For example, the site addresses measles-had-already-started-to-go-away argument, both with historical data and with contemporary data from other disease models in countries who had lapses in immunization rates.

I'd love to help, but I'll have to know what to find!
posted by delfuego at 9:13 PM on January 29, 2005

I'm with delfuego... it's not clear what you're looking for. The CDC page seems about as objective as you can find.

You're not going to find a "moderate, objective" web page with no axe to grind. The anti-vaccine people think there's a great conspiracy that needs exposing, and everyone else is reacting to them by saying "No, these guys are wrong, for God's sake don't listen to them and here's why."

This site has a collection of links. Maybe one or more of them will be helpful to you.

If you're looking for more quantitative / less dumbed-down assessments, look through the pages for links to cited studies.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:00 PM on January 29, 2005

The Immunation Advisory Centre from the University of Auckland claims to be neutral and also offers to answer any questions emailed to them.
posted by slightlybewildered at 10:20 PM on January 29, 2005

>>ikkyu2: ...the only thing you'll want to be damning are the damnably stupid people who don't vaccinate their kids.

>>What's not to be cheerful about? Get your kids vaccinated. They won't get awful diseases. Simple.

This type of blanket, damning statement is not helpful.

Have you done the research? Have you looked into thimerosal (mercury) in vaccines? monkey viruses injected into humans? or formaldehyde?

I'm not saying that vaccination is wrong - but can you see that a parent might be concerned about injecting these ingredients into their child? This is not as black and white as you make out.

What are the chances of your child getting an acute disease that the vaccine would prevent? Balance that against the chances of medical science later going "whoops, oh there actually is a connection between injecting these ingredients and the increase in autism or leukemia".

It comes down to how much you trust the medical-industrial complex. From cigarettes to thalidomide, the medical illuminati have been supporters of dangerous or deadly practices in which they later have to do a complete 180. "whoops, our bad"

-- Pleae excuse me rantiness ...
posted by Dag Maggot at 1:46 AM on January 30, 2005

For all its worth, regarding Thimerisol and autism: given that I have a dog in this hunt (my son is autistic), I have followed the situation fairly closely. Among other things, I have a Google Alert that sends me autism-related stories every day. Almost like clockwork I get a story one day that says studies show no link between MMR vaccines and autism, and then the next day I get a story that says studies do show a link between MMR vaccines and autism. Personally, I'm skeptical.

On the one hand, it just so happens that around the time a child normally gets the MMR vaccine is also about the time that parents often begin to notice their child missing the normal developmental milestones. It's not a great leap for a parent to associate the two and blame the vaccine when it is really just a coincidence of timing.

On the other hand, the symptoms of autism are very similar to the symptoms of mercury poisoning. It is not unreasonable to at least pose the question as to whether the mercury (thimerisol) used as a preservative in the MMR vaccines is actually causing damage. It seems clear in the studies so far that in the vast majority of cases the vaccine does absolutely no damage at all, so really the remaining question is whether it is safe in virtually all cases or whether there is a small percentage of children who are, for some reason, much more susceptible to damage from mercury exposure. I would not be the least bit surprised if the latter proved to be true.

Still and all, even with having an autistic child if I were given the same choice again I would still give him the vaccine. The risks associated with not being vaccinated far outweigh the the possible risks associated with getting the vaccine (at least in my opinion).
posted by Lokheed at 6:58 AM on January 30, 2005

Here in Nebraska, they just proposed a bill that would prohibit the use of thimerosal/mercury/other heavy metals in childhood vaccinations. ( bill here-PDF file.) I haven't heard of any really conclusive evidence that these metals cause autism, it's just that a lot of people who have autistic children here believe that it does and have been lobbying hard for the change in the vaccines. I think that what Lokheed said about the timing of the vaccines and the first signs of autism is pretty apt. A lot of kids with autism seem to develop normally both verbally and socially, and suddenly regress in these areas at around that time (18 months old or so.)
I guess that the problem with linking thimerosal to autism is the fact that if one twin is autistic, the other will likely be autistic. Sure, both twins will probably get the same vaccines, but I think the occurance of autism in twins points to something more innate.
The theory that it's caused by an immune system deficiency is a possibility. The Autism Network Resources for Physicians has a nice comprehensive list of links to studies on the cause of autism.
posted by sophie at 8:32 AM on January 30, 2005

recurve, former Mefite Mike Gunderloy has compiled an excellent vaccination resource at his site, larkfarm.com. He links and discusses the evidence, both pro and con, and in the end decided to vaccinate. As did I.

You'll likely find other useful parenting information there as well.
posted by ewagoner at 12:04 PM on January 30, 2005

I've got a background in biology and medicine. I can state, with great confidence, that anyone who does not get their kids vaccinated (leaving aside allergy issues) is an idiot and a parasite. Why do so many parents go through this "oh my god should I vaccinate?!?" stuff? Does your brain turn to mush when you have kids?

Get. Your. Kids. Vaccinated.
posted by Justinian at 2:12 PM on January 30, 2005

Consider this: sometimes the truth is overwhelming on one side (is the earth only 6,000 years old?). In such situations, looking for a reasonable person who presents both sides of the argument "fairly" may, in fact, be a fruitless quest.

Consider also this: almost everyone in the "medical-industrial complex" has children (or nieces and nephews), and there is no evidence that they are reluctant to have their children (or relatives) vaccinated.
posted by WestCoaster at 2:22 PM on January 30, 2005

I think it would be best if people focused on the question and not grinding axes in this thread. The question was not "should I vaccinate?".
posted by beth at 2:26 PM on January 30, 2005

It's a very emotional issue for parents, because they have all decided one way or another ... and have a stake in believing that they are doing the best thing for their child.

No parent wants to think that they are exposing their child to a deadly disease.

Likewise, no parent wants to think they might be damaging their child by allowing the injection of harmful substances into their bloodstream.

This leads to parents defending their position vehemently - because what does it mean if they are wrong?

It's a very, very contentious, personal issue - which should be left to the parents to research and decide.
posted by Dag Maggot at 3:08 PM on January 30, 2005

Response by poster: Those of you that answered my question, thank you.

This was a huge help.
posted by recurve at 5:07 PM on January 30, 2005

Dag-maggot: I am the medical-industrial complex.

Did you know that 1 in 1000 kids who get measles experience an acute encephalitis, and that 20 per cent of these can expect to experience lifelong intractable seizures, long after the infection has passed? This in itself completely blasts to pieces like a hydrogen bomb any arguments you could make about mercury, "autism," or anything else; never mind the other nasty effects of measles.

The argument against vaccinating your kid is "My child will be protected against diseases because every other child will be vaccinated and so my kid won't be exposed." This is morally hateful, but it's at least consistent with the kind of idiotic parenting behaviors we're seeing lately. I just wish more parents who felt this way were open about it, so the whole house of cards would fall to pieces.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:32 AM on February 1, 2005

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