How is it that an anti-VAX family could become not only pro-VAX, but vaccination advocates? It happened because of one word. Evidence. We are both naturally minded parents (believing strongly in co-sleeping, breastfeeding, home births and baby-wearing) and evidence based parents. It’s not always easy but we try to always keep an open mind and allow our opinions to change as new and better research and evidence comes to light. Occasionally the two conflict but in the end, facts and evidence always win.
In 2005 we were pregnant with our first child. Another couple of months and we were going to have our very first, our very own little bundle of joy. A boy. We were so excited. Along with any other new parents to be, we wanted to be the best parents.
So our research started early. Of course one major topic to research was vaccines. What did we want to vaccinate against? How many shots should we give him?? How many were enough?? How many were too many!?! What were the side effects!!??! Side effects!!?!!!!? Arrrggghhh!!!!!
Our increasingly panicked questions were only answered with ever more frightening answers. Sickness. Hospitals. Side effects. Mercury. Toxins. Autism. It is enough to drive any parent mad. By the time our son was born it was decided. We were absolutely NOT vaccinating our little boy and exposing him to all those chemicals and possibly even autism. Maybe if someone actually did a proper study and found vaccines to be safe, we would reconsider. But without that, definitely not.
So, that’s where we left it. For about two years we never discussed the topic. But we found it was still bothering us at an increasing level. We were seeing our friends vaccinate their kids. Didn’t they know what they were doing? If vaccines were so horrible and toxic why were these people that we knew, cared about and respected harming their own children? Even worse, why was nothing being done about it? Why was nobody studying this?
So after over two years of this eating away at us we went back to researching. It just didn’t make sense that this was such a controversial subject, yet no one was studying it. So we Googled again. Found the same frightening information as before. Went on the CDC’s site again. Then we went one step further and started looking through some medical journals as well. There just had to be something in there. Some evidence.
Turns out there was. Lots of it. And not the evidence we were expecting to find. It turned out Dr. Mercola and Jenny McCarthy were not the experts on vaccines. It turns out there are hundreds, of doctors, scientists and medical professionals who have spent their lives studying and researching this stuff. Not just the viruses but also the vaccines, their effectiveness, their ingredients and their side effects. And these experts were not just from the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, most of the information I collected over the next year were independent studies. Yes, there were some from “Big Pharma”, but assuming a bias I simply ignored those. Yet there were many more from The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and many universities around the world.
What I started to notice was that the anti-VAX “movement” didn’t have any real evidence backing its reasoning. There were many sad stories (and many of them were truly heartbreaking) correlating autism and other diseases with vaccines. There were a lot of anecdotes. Yet no evidence. And I was looking for evidence. Facts.
So if autism and other similar disorders were being correlated to vaccines, then why? If autism rates were going up, why? If vaccines weren’t the cause then what was? Well it turned out the first two questions were the easy ones to answer.
The main reason autism was being correlated to vaccines had simply to do with a coincidence of timing. Autism usually starts to show right in the middle of the childhood vaccine schedule. Right around 18-24 months a previously healthy and alert child can seem to stop developing mentally. They may even start to forget how to do things they previously had learned. So you go to see your doctor and find out your child has been diagnosed with autism.
As a worried and concerned parent you would try to think of what could have done this to your happy healthy baby. Did they fall? Did they hit their head? Did they choke on anything recently? Then you remember. They did just get their vaccines a couple of months ago. Maybe that was it? And that is how it happens. Correlation. It is an easy answer for a scary and sad situation. A good scapegoat. Yet there is no evidence. Just bad timing.
So then why are more and more children being diagnosed with autism? Well, it turns out they are not. The US National Library of Medicine, CDC and World Health Organization classes “…autism as a ‘spectrum’ disorder.” that has grown to include many other neurological disorders. “Asperger syndrome is a milder version of the disorder.” So what is actually happening is that more diseases are being reported and classified as autism and therefore on paper it looks as though autism rates are rising. They are not. The definition of autism is just expanding.
So then what is causing autism? Well, that is a harder one to answer. The real answer is, we don’t know But according to the National institute of Nurological Disorders and Stroke, “Scientists aren’t certain about what causes ASD, but it’s likely that both genetics and environment play a role. Researchers have identified a number of genes associated with the disorder.”
There is a lot we don’t know about autism and its causes, and it is currently being studied. However thanks to many studies (www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/ autism/documents/vaccine_ studies.pdf) we know that there is no evidence showing any currently available vaccine contains any ingredient that causes ASD.
I also learned just how well our vaccines worked. According to the CDC, between 1953 and 1963 the United States recorded an average of 450 measles related deaths per year. Now thanks to vaccines that number is essentially zero. Before pneumococcal conjugate vaccine became available for children, pneumococcus caused 6,100 deaths per year in the U.S. Since the vaccine was introduced, the incidence of invasive pneumococcal disease in children has been reduced by 75%.In the 1920′s, diphtheria was a major cause of illness and death for children in the U.S. In 1921, a total of 206,000 cases and 15,520 deaths were reported. With vaccine development in 1923, new cases of diphtheria began to fall in the U.S., until in 2001 only two cases were reported. There are so many examples of just how well they work it’s mind-boggling.
And yes there are sometimes side effects, but let’s put some things into perspective. Let’s look at a few statistics. The odds of getting hit by lightning at some point in your life is 1:5000. The odds of being struck and killed by said lightning strike is 1:2million. The odds of being killed in a car accident is 1:6250. The odds that a woman will die in childbirth in North America is 1:4800. The odds of a child who has contracted the measles dying is 1:1000. The odds of having a long term severe reaction to the MMR vaccine…. about 1:1million.
The final kicker for me was learning how the modern day anti-VAX movement began. In the past it had been a largely religious movement. People of many different faiths didn’t believe people should be interfering with God’s work. This meant that it was (and still is for some people) literally against their religion to get things like vaccines, blood transfusions and even some surgeries. They didn’t argue that vaccines didn’t work. That is irrelevant. They just chose not to get them because if God decided it was you or your child’s time to be sick, blind, disfigured, sterile, crippled or dead, they were okay with that. It must be part of God’s plan.
Now let me tell you about a Canadian trained British physician named Andrew Wakefield. In 1998 he published a research study in the medical journal The Lancet. In his study he alleged a possible connection with the MMR vaccine and autism. His hypothesis was that the MMR vaccine caused a leaky gut which sent toxins into the blood stream then manifested itself into autism. This was the first time such an idea had been put forth and he got a lot of media coverage for it. In the years following the immunization rates in the UK decreased substantially.
In 2004, ten of the thirteen contributing authors had retracted the conclusion portion of this study and said, “We wish to make it clear that in this paper no causal link was established between MMR vaccine and autism as the data were insufficient. However, the possibility of such a link was raised and consequent events have had major implications for public health. In view of this, we consider now is the appropriate time that we should together formally retract the interpretation placed upon these findings in the paper, according to precedent.”
By March of 2004, the General Medical Council (GMC) launched a formal investigation into Andrew Wakefield and two of his former colleges. He is being charged by the GMC with suppressing and falsifying data. It has also come to light that he was being paid to conduct the study by solicitors representing parents who believed their children had been harmed by MMR. His trial is scheduled to begin on November 19, 2009. In the mean time he has been practicing medicine on autistic children in Texas studying a new disease which he calls ‘autistic enterocolitis.’ However he has put no evidence forth to prove this is a real disease and it is not recognized by the medical or scientific community.
So just to be clear, the person who first put forth the idea that vaccines are harmful and can cause autism was being paid by people who had an interest in a specific result. He is being accused of scientific misconduct and data fixing by the GMC and his former colleges for ensuring that result.
So when asked why we vaccinate we say, “Because the evidence shows they work. They control the spread of disease and stop mass pandemics from happening. Yes, they have side effects, but the side effects are less serious and happen less often than the disease they are vaccinating against.”
We are not saying anyone reading this should listen to us. Or do what we do. Or that our way is the right way. Every family needs to make their own decisions on what is best for their family. What I do hope is that every family will take in all the evidence before making their decisions. Talk it over with their physician. Then even after that decision is made keep reading on the topic. Check in every now and then to see if things have changed. Always keep an eye out for new, better and more reliable evidence. Our decisions were not made lightly, but we now have two boys on a full vaccination schedule. It was a long process but we now feel less fear and more confident in the health and well being of our family.
Some refrences and excellent sites to get started with research.
www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/ autism/documents/vaccine_ studies.pdf