gmhTODAY 26 gmhTODAY June July 2019 - Page 76

Crystal Hann health WISE Crystal Han is a freelance writer and artist. She graduated from San José State University with a BFA in Animation/Illustration and is an aspiring novelist, currently working on two books. The Vaccine Debate W ith this most recent outbreak of measles and the numerous conflicting opinions about vaccinations, you may be wondering about the benefits and risks of childhood vaccines. Some see vaccinations as the ultimate threat to their child’s wellbeing, while others see it as essential for protecting their kids from diseases. So which one are we supposed to believe? Vaccines have been described as one of the top ten achievements of public health and disease prevention in the twentieth century. Their widespread use has contributed to decreasing rates of childhood illnesses and have rendered some diseases, such as smallpox and polio, nearly extinct. However, for as long as vaccines have existed, there have always been fears and myths surrounding them. Much of the current and enduring opposition to vaccines stems from the British ex-doctor Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield alleged that the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella—MMR—vaccine caused autism in children. It was later discovered that Wakefield had been paid by a law board to search for evidence that would support a litigation case by parents who believed the MMR vaccine caused their children’s autism. He then faked a study that found a correlation between the two and published those findings to the public. Due to overwhelming evidence that Wakefield committed scientific fraud, his medical license was revoked and his findings were declared false. However, the damage had already been done. To this day, many people in the Western world believe that the MMR vaccine, and vaccines in general, cause autism in children. Vaccination opponents have used many claims to support this idea that vaccina- tions cause autism, the most prominent of which is the ingredient Thimerosol. Thimerosol is a mercury-containing compound that is used as a preservative in 76 vaccines. Despite there being no scientific evidence that Thimerosol causes autism, researchers continue to study possible links. As a precautionary measure, Thimerosol has also been removed from most childhood vaccines, though some multidose vials of the influenza vaccine may still have it for sanitary reasons. Another argument against vaccines is the idea that group vaccines, such as DTaP and MMR, overload a child’s immune system. On average, a healthy child’s immune system is exposed to and fights off thousands of antigens—the parts of germs that our immune system responds to—a day. Even group vaccines like the MMR vaccine contain only a tiny amount of antigens compared to what we regularly encounter. The irony of vaccines is that when they are working best is when the public doubts them the most. Vaccinations create herd immunity, where a disease effectively dies out because everyone within the population is immune to it. People start to think, “No one gets polio anymore. Why do I need to vaccinate my child for it?” These thoughts are compounded by the preva- lence of false and misleading information online, which vilifies vaccinations by using tactics like skewing science, censoring opposition, attacking critics, and claiming Sources: Making the Vaccine Decision, CDC, vaccine-decision/index.html History of Anti-Vaccination Movements, The History of, https://www. articles/history-anti-vaccination-movements The Anti-Vaccination Movement: A Regres- sion in Mordern Medicine, NCBI, https:// PMC6122668/ GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN june/july 2019 to be “pro-safe” vaccination advocates. Research shows that spending just five to ten minutes on an anti-vaccination website heightens misperceptions of vaccination risks. The result is the belief that the risks and side effects of vaccines are worse than the disease the vaccine is trying to prevent. The more parents refuse to vaccinate their children, the more herd immunity is lost. All medicines carry some risk. Similar to how some people may be violently allergic to a food or a substance, there is a small chance that someone might develop a severe allergic reaction or respond negatively to a vaccine. However, there are far more complications from the actual disease than from its vaccine. Typical vaccine side-effects are soreness and minor redness or swelling at the injection site, a low fever, and occasionally a more heightened allergic reaction. In contrast, an infection of measles can lead to pneumonia or encephalitis—swelling of the brain—and death in young children. Pertussis, another disease that’s on the rise lately, can lead to pneumonia, pulmonary hypertension, seizures, and cracked ribs or a hernia from severe coughing. At the heart of the vaccine debate, you have parents who deeply love their children and want to do what’s best for them; a job that’s made harder by all of the fear and misinformation out there. Although the risk of an adverse reaction to vaccines is small, no one wants their child to be part of that small percentage. The problem is that unvaccinated children aren’t just at risk of contracting highly contagious diseases, they also pose a big risk to vulnerable groups, such as immune-compromised individu- als, infants, and the elderly. As the debate rages on about vaccines, perhaps one of the most important things to consider is that choosing not to vaccinate doesn’t only affect you, it affects your entire community.