Childhood vaccination is a subject that has constantly been in the news in recent years, with two sides hotly debating whether vaccines are a necessity for child safety or if they are unsafe and responsible for disorders such as autism. Proponents of vaccination argue that vaccines are responsible for the health, safety, and lower mortality rates for children all over the world. People who are against vaccines include celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey, physician Dr. Andrew Wakefield, and others who believe vaccines cause more harm for children than they do good. It is no wonder that new parents feel confusion because of the vast amount of conflicting information being offered to them about vaccination. However, in spite of the celebrity campaigns and questions raised concerning vaccines, evidence shows that vaccines remain an important part of childhood health and safety around the world.
People who are making the decision to become future parents and new parents are confronted with a dizzying array of information about the pros and cons of vaccination, especially if they venture onto the Internet. While there are genuine concerns about vaccination complications that parents should have and children with certain allergies should not receive certain vaccinations, there is also a lot of misinformation perpetuated on the Internet. For instance, Mike Adams of NaturalNews.com says celebrities Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey, “At great risk to their professional careers . . . have found the courage to dare to tell the truth about vaccines and autism.” This alleged “truth” is that the pharmaceutical industry is discrediting the research of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, whose 1998 research paper was retracted by the Lancet medical journal because he misrepresented or altered data (Godlee, Smith, and Marcovitch). In other words, because Wakefield faked the data for his study, it cannot be relied upon for proof that vaccinations are linked to autism. Unfortunately, celebrity voices such as McCarthy’s and Carey’s are highly persuasive because people believe that the rich and famous have access to the best information and resources, when in reality there is no risk to their careers and these celebrities have no medical or professional expertise about vaccination.
Additionally, parents browsing the Internet have to contend with self-titled “The People’s Chemist” Shane Ellison, who believes that vaccination for children is completely unnecessary and that people who choose to vaccinate children should not be concerned about the fact that some people do not. Although Ellison claims “I learned to be less sensitive to emotional arguments,” his article insultingly refers to pro-vaccine parents and doctors as “argumentative apes.” Ellison writes, “My background as a medicinal chemist taught me to rely on proven research,” but in his article, he asks people to buy one of his books or simply fails to cite sources, proving himself guilty of the one using emotional arguments and failing to provide proven research for his claims. In the discussion about herd immunity, he claims that herd immunity is “only a hypothesis” despite the fact that many sources such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the New York State Department of Health all demonstrating that herd immunity is effective (“Why Immunize?”; “Vaccination Is;” “The Harm”). Ellison claims that the flu vaccine is “worthless,” yet the CDC recently reported that as of March 22, 2013, influenza is responsible for the deaths of at least 105 children, 90% of whom were not vaccinated against influenza (Fox). Ellison’s claims include the idea the polio vaccine actually caused polio and that vaccines include “numerous objectionable ingredients, such as monkey kidney cells and aborted fetal tissue,” for which he provides no reference or source. Considering the ideas presented in Ellison’s article, it is easy to see why some parents have many fears concerning childhood vaccinations.
Besides the celebrity campaigns against vaccination and scare-tactics proliferated by people like Ellison, there are other reasons people may decide not to vaccinate their children. A paper in the Journal of Consumer Research by Andrew Gershoff and Jonathan Koehler discovered that “the mere possibility of safety product betrayal conjures up strong emotional reactions and some surprising avoidance behavior identified as betrayal aversion” (148). As an example, the researchers discuss American parents’ belief that the H1N1 vaccine actually caused and did not prevent the illness (148). In other words, even if the truth was that there was no possibility that a vaccine could actually cause the disease it was intended to prevent, if a parent believed there was even a small chance that the vaccine could cause the illness, they were less likely to have their child vaccinated. Another reason why parents may not vaccinate their child is because, as Dr. Renée Jenkins says, “Many parents never saw those diseases or heard of someone who had polio or diphtheria . . . so they don’t have a sense of what life is like without immunity” (“Vaccination Is”). In other words, the success of vaccinations leads to an illusion that there is no longer any danger from diseases like diphtheria and polio, when in reality the danger still exists (“Why Immunize?”).
While people like Ellison prefer to view vaccination as a matter of personal choice that should not concern others, the truth is that having a growing or large number of unvaccinated people is a matter of public concern. There is a small group of people who cannot receive vaccinations because of immune systems deficiencies or because they are allergic to an ingredient in the vaccine (“The Harm”). If an outbreak occurs because many people are not vaccinated, this group is at high risk.
Additionally, the idea that these diseases that vaccines can help prevent are now extinct is misleading. An example of this is that in 1974, Japan decided the pertussis or whooping cough vaccine was no longer necessary because the incidence of the disease was so low, with only 393 cases reported in the entire nation (“Why Immunize?”). However, by 1979 there was an epidemic with over 13,000 reported cases; once the vaccinations began again, the number of whopping cough cases declined (“Why Immunize?”). It is easy to imagine the amount of pain, suffering, and economic cost that such an epidemic could have on not only a nation but a family or an individual.
Also, people may believe that diseases like measles, mumps, chicken pox, or influenza are normal childhood diseases and that they are not really dangerous. It is true that a child who receives the influenza vaccine may still get a strain of the flu, but the vaccine is designed to protect against the most dangerous strains circulating that year (Hunt). Influenza can lead to complications including pneumonia, croup, heart failure, brain injury, or even death (Hunt). Unfortunately, as Dr. Renée Jenkins said, many parents may not have seen for themselves the complications as the result of any of these diseases and may choose not to vaccinate their children, leading to future tragedy.
The best resources for parents concerning whether or not to vaccinate a child include not only Internet resources such as the CDC and Mayo Clinic websites, but also their pediatricians. There may be a very good reason why a child should not be vaccinated, such as a child who has an immune disorder or certain allergies. If parents question their pediatrician’s opinion, they should turn to a different doctor for a second opinion to make sure they are making the best decision for their children. More than likely, the answer will be that vaccination is advised, because it promotes not only the health and safety of an individual child, but also the community at large.
Adams, Mike. Andrew Wakefield, Scientific Censorship, and Fourteen Monkeys; A statement by Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey. NaturalNews.com, 6 Feb. 2010. Web.
Ellison, Shane. Herd Immunity: Three Reasons Why I Don’t Vaccinate My Children And Why Vaccine Supporters Shouldn’t Care. The People’s Chemist, 2012. Web.
Fox, Maggie. Flu kills 105 children; most not vaccinated, CDC says. NBC News, 22 Mar. 3024. Web.
Gershoff, Andrew D. and Koehler, Jonathan J. Safety First? The Role of Emotion in Safety Product Betrayal Aversion. Journal of Consumer Research 38.1 (Jun. 2011): 140-150. Print.
Godlee, Fiona, Smith, Jane, and Marcovitch, Harvey. Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent. BMJ Group, 6 Jan. 2011. Web.
Hunt, Margaret. Influenza Virus (Orthomyoxvirus). Microbiology and Immunology On-line: University of South Carolina School of Medicine, 18 Oct 2010. Web.
The Harm of Skipping Vaccinations or Delaying. New York State Department of Health, n.d. Web. Accessed 20 Mar. 2013.
Vaccination Is the Best Protection. HealthyChildren.org: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2008. Web.
Why Immunize? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Mar. 2012. Web.