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Today in Health & Wellness
DOCTOR AT THE DESK

The Issue on Vaccines

By: Lourdes Nena A. Cabison-Carlos, MDThe Issue on Vaccines

Vaccines have proven their worth, as demonstrated by history. Smallpox has been eradicated (the virus now exist only in a lab). Polio, whooping cough, pneumonia, among others, have decreased in occurrence due to vaccination. However, the recent outbreaks of communicable diseases have been linked to an increasing number of parents who refuse to vaccinate their child.

When we get infected with, let’s say, chickenpox, our body develops antibodies to fight the virus. Our antibodies have awesome memories that when we get exposed to the same virus, they fight off the virus before infection occurs. Vaccines are germs that are killed (or weakened); this means that the body can produce antibodies against them without an actual infection. So unlike antibiotics which are taken to fight off an infection, vaccines are given to prevent infection. Now that we got that out of the way, let us move on to...

Vaccines and Autism

Ah. We have touched the argument most anti-vaxxers use. Let us make things clear: more than a handful of scientific, peer-reviewed studies have been published debunking the Andrew Wakefield “study” on vaccines and autism. The rise in the number of autism today can be attributed, in part, to the fact that there is an increase in diagnosis and recognition of autism itself. Just think: if vaccines (particularly MMR) cause autism and the DOH implements MMR vaccination (which it does), then autism should be more prevalent than it is now.

Vaccines and healthy living

Yes, a healthy life style is essential in avoiding infection, but, even good hygiene and proper sanitation cannot kill disease-causing germs.This is why we need to partner healthy living with preventive medicine to avoid disease.

Natural Immunity vs Vaccine-Induced Immunity

Natural immunity results when our body encounters and successfully defeats invading germs. Some parents prefer this from immunity acquired from vaccines. However, research has shown the immune response from vaccines is comparable to that which is acquired from natural infection. And of course, vaccine-acquired immunity comes without the hassle of actually getting sick. It actually boils down to getting sick with the possibility of being hospitalized and acquiring complications vs. braving a shot to obtain immunity.

Vaccines and chemicals

As much as we want to be “all-natural”, manufacturers need to add a chemical to vaccines to act as a preservatives, adjuvants or antibiotics. These chemicals are used in minute, non-toxic amounts. Some of the controversial additives are as follow: 

  • Thiomersal was previously used in vaccines as a preservative. As per FDA, there was no evidence to link thiomersal to side effects other than local hypersensitivity reactions. However, as a precautionary measure, almost all vaccines used today are already thiomersal-free.
  • Aluminum is used as an adjuvant to increase the effectiveness of the vaccine. Recent case-controlled studies have found no evidence to link the minute amount of aluminum in vaccines to serious side effects. In fact, in the first six months of life, infants ingest more aluminum from breast milk or formula compared to what they get from vaccines.
  • Formaldehyde is famous for its use as a preservative for corpses. But, it is also found in common household items such as mouthwash, cosmetics, cough drops and antihistamines. In vaccine manufacturing, it is used to kill or inactivate the antigens. Once the bacteria or virus has been inactivated, formaldehyde is diluted out of the vaccine. Note that formaldehyde is used only in the production of some vaccines; it is not used on “live” vaccines such as MMR or varicella. 

It’s true that some vaccine ingredients can be toxic... when present at much, much higher doses. But that goes for all other “innocent” substances, even water. And uhm, no, anti-freeze was never an ingredient in vaccine manufacturing. 

Herd immunity

When most children in a group are immune or protected (whether acquired through natural causes or from vaccines), even if one child gets sick, the chances of the disease spreading to other kids is low. This is because it will have nowhere to go – if the sick child comes in contact only with children who are protected, the disease will die out. This is called herd immunity.

Cost-Effectiveness

It is true that vaccines, when obtained from a private physician’s clinic, can be (very) expensive. That’s where the government comes in. Health centers give free vaccinations to children less than a year old, as part of their Expanded Immunization Program (EPI). In the long run, even shelling out money for a shot will cost you less than being hospitalized and missing work.

Vaccine Overload

Our body is designed to fend off infections. Vaccines, because they contain weakened or killed germs, pose a small challenge to the immune system of a healthy individual compared to all the viruses and bacteria our children encounter in a typical day.

Vaccine Safety

We have come a long way from small pox inoculation. These days, manufacturing of vaccines is closely monitored by the government. A vaccine is not licensed unless extensive testing and clinical trials have shown that it is both effective and safe. Furthermore, vaccines are monitored even after being released in the market to catch any reactions that were missed during the clinical trials.

Vaccine Efficacy

There is a 1-5% chance that a vaccinated child fails to develop immunity, even after a booster dose. In these cases, the child could get sick when exposed to the disease. This is where herd immunity and healthy living comes in. To avoid getting infected, the herd will shield the vulnerable child from actually contracting the disease.

Vaccines and the Internet

Because everyone can access the internet through our smart phones (and our neighbor’s Wi-Fi), information is literally just a click/swipe away. Most parents rely on the web for information. And evidence has shown that those who turn to the Internet for vaccination advice are more likely to be influenced by anti-vaccine websites, despite the lack of scientific support for their claims. My advice: make a list of vaccine related questions and ask your physician. If you must, avoid web articles that are not backed by scientific data or studies.

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