The Anti-Vaccination Problem
SciWorks Radio is a production of 88.5 WFDD and SciWorks, the Science Center and Environmental Park of Forsyth County, located in Winston-Salem.
Vaccination may be one of our greatest medical success stories. For example, according to the centers for disease control, in the late 1940s through the 1950s the US had about 35 thousand cases of polio, a potentially deadly disease. A vaccine was introduced in 1955 and by 1965 only 61 cases were reported.
Polio infections have been minimal since. But recently this country has seen a movement against vaccinations. This has been brought to the mainstream largely by celebrity actors with no scientific or medical training. It is perpetuated by web sites that often have something to sell. To help make sense of this, I spoke with Dr. Christopher Ohl, M.D., infectious diseases expert at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and medical director of communicable diseases for the Forsyth County Health Department.
You hear in the anti-vaccine movement that vaccine is related to autism. This comes up a lot now And it's based on a scientific study that suggested the increase in autism that we’re seeing may be related to vaccines. Well after time and further data and large epidemiological studies, this was debunked. When they looked at it, and they looked at a particular investigator and it was found that he actually fabricated the data. That journal has pulled the paper and completely refuted its findings. Just to repeat there is no association of autism with vaccination. There is a huge body of scientific evidence on that.
What’s in vaccines that people think is problematic?
One of the big ones that comes up is thimerosal, and thimerosal has a small amount of mercury, but that mercury is is an organic mercury. It's not like the mercury that we fear from exposures when people have problems. So it has really never been associated with any problems. It's never been associated with birth defects or with autism. There are good scientific studies to show that. Most of the manufacturers have removed thimerosal, so it's really not an issue. You can ask your provider “may I have a thimerosal free vaccine?”
The result of this misinformation has been a disturbing resurgence of many preventable and potentially deadly diseases. Measles, Mumps, whooping cough are all making a comeback, after being nearly eliminated.
Last year we had three epidemics of measles in United States and all of these were related to people traveling overseas who are unvaccinated for measles, getting infected and then bringing it back. Including here in the Triad area last year. We had 23 cases of measles that occurred two years ago here, and those cases were all related to one person who brought it back into a largely unvaccinated community of people. This community thought themselves exempt from having to be vaccinated. That outbreak in North Carolina spread. We had several children who had to be hospitalized because of measles, so even though it may seem like these diseases are gone, they’re still out there and we still need to protect our population But we also need to protect our individual children.
Very young children, the few adults unable to be vaccinated, and those with compromised immune systems, cancer patients for example, rely on what’s known as herd immunity. This means that if most of a population, or herd, is vaccinated the disease has little chance of infecting those who are not. Earlier this year the World Health Organization officially warned of a growing Polio health emergency (Official WHO statement here). The disease is spreading through parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. This seems so far away, but we are all connected in our global community. Unvaccinated people in the US may soon face considerable risk, while putting in jeopardy those who would be protected by herd immunity. Among the reasons is an ongoing attack on vaccination efforts in Pakistan. The results are spilling into neighboring countries, many of which have had their own vaccination programs interrupted. From a scientific perspective, this offers a very unfortunate control group, showing the positive effect vaccines have had and what can go wrong when they are not used. After extensive research, no conditions have been linked to childhood vaccinations. It’s never too late for you or your children to be vaccinated.
Childhood vaccines are covered by insurance and/or covered by a state vaccination program. People don't need to pay for their vaccines. (Forsyth County immunization clinic) (Guilford County immunization clinic)
In America, no one should ever have to worry about contracting preventable diseases which, until recently, have been all but eradicated in the developed world.