You must vaccinate

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I was mistakenly under the impression that, at least in my social circles, the whole vaccination issue had been put completely to rest, but based on the number of serious questions that I’ve been asked recently, this unfortunately does not seem to be the case.

For those of you who don’t have time, I’ll cut to the chase immediately:

Yes, you simply must vaccinate your children.  This is the best and safest choice, for both your child and your fellow humans.

No, there is no link between vaccination and autism.  No, spreading out the (MMR) vaccinations is not safer, it is in fact more dangerous.  Also, the “vaccine overload” hypothesis is flawed.

For those of you with a bit more time or those of you who are not willing to take me on my word, I’ll go into some more detail on each of the points mentioned above.  Most of what I write here is based on articles in the Wikipedia.  I’ve deliberately done this, because these articles are accessible and readable to everyone, and they do link to the original scientific articles that they are based on.  Feel free to jump to any section.  Also, each section ends with a short summary of its contents to make it easier for you to skip.

Recent history

This section is based on the Wikipedia article on the MMR vaccine controversy.

In 1998, Andre Wakefield and co-authors published a paper in the Lancet where, based on 12 case reports, they speculated on a possible link between the MMR vaccination and autism, and also speculated that it might be better to space out the vaccinations.  Of course the press and media picked this up and went completely wild, causing a health scare in the UK.  It is important to note that both of these claims were highly speculative.

It later turned out that Wakefield had received 55000 (fifty-five thousand) UK pounds from Legal Aid Board solicitors who were gathering evidence to use in a case against vaccine manufacturers, and that a number of parents of the children taking part in Wakefield’s study were directly involved in the law-suit.  Wakefield did not mention any of this at the time of publication.  Ten of his 12 co-authors have since completely retracted their interpretation of the paper.

In short, the author of the paper that started most of the modern vaccination-autism scare was completely corrupt, and his corruption directly affected this specific research.

He did manage to cause such a scare in the UK, that measles (one of the diseases that MMR vaccinates against) is for the first time in decades at almost epidemic levels.   Since then, there have been cases of measles killing children, something which would most probably not have happened had the vaccination compliance not been at an all-time low.  Isn’t that absolutely crazy when one considers that measles was all but eradicated?

In the years between 1998 and the present, there have been numerous extremely well-designed and large studies, none of which have been able to find any kind of link between vaccination and autism.

To summarise this section: The research that the vaccination scare is based on, was deeply flawed and based on corruption, not science.

Spreading out of vaccines

This section is based on the Wikipedia article on the general Vaccine Controversy.

In some cases, parents opt for spreading out the vaccinations, because they mistakenly think that this is safer than not doing so.  The flawed idea that administering all these vaccines together could be dangerous is called the “vaccine overload hypothesis”.  It is flawed for the reasons:

  • Common childhood ilnesses represent a much heavier load on the infant immune system.
  • The vaccination cocktail given currently represents less than 10% of the immunological load of the vaccinations given to children in the 80s.
  • Numerous studies have shown that the combination of vaccinations does NOT damage the infant immune system.

Importantly, if you spread out vaccines, you increase the time during which your child is susceptible to the diseases that are being vaccinated again, thus greatly increasing the health risk to your child and all other children it comes into contact with.  You are a bad parent if you do this.

To summarise this section: Administering the vaccinations together does not damage your child’s immune system. Spreading out vaccines is dangerous for both your child and all children it comes into contact with.

Celebrities campaigning against vaccination

Recently, a number of celebrities, most prominent of which Jenny McCarthy and her partner Jim Carrey, supported by Oprah, have been campaigning against vaccination.  You have to remember that these are actors and entertainers, with almost ZERO medical or scientific background or training.   McCarthy dropped out of nursing school to become a Playboy Bunny: There’s nothing wrong with that, but you really cannot base important medical decisions, concerning the health and survival of your child (!!), on the opinions of an erstwhile nude model!

To summarise: Think carefully about the scientific and medical backgrounds of actors telling you how to care for the health and well-being of your child, even more so when it concerns life and death issues such as vaccination.

The logical conclusion

To the best of our scientific knowledge, vaccinations as they are administered today are safe and do not cause autism.  In spite of this, research continues day and night to make sure of this observation.

On the other hand, if you don’t vaccinate, the risk of your child getting ill and dying is significantly higher.  If a large enough number of you don’t vaccinate, we lose our herd immunity and then there is a very real risk that many more of our children will get ill and die due to your inaction.  Do you seriously want to take this very real risk with your and my children’s lives?

Post scriptum

I hope that this has helped.  If there are any issues that are not clear, or missing, or you are not convinced, please let me know so that we can discuss and so that I can improve this article.

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26 thoughts on “You must vaccinate”

  1. Pingback: Charl Botha
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  3. I had previously read all the wikipedia entries, and while no I am not a immunologist, I am not a scientist, nor am I particularly gifted in anything beyond breathing, something still bugs me about the whole deal.

    I appreciate your post, as you are clearly going for the “wake up people, come to your senses” approach, so I think a little more is warranted.

    – very few of the worriers about vaccination and autism (or other general vaccine-caused maladies) advocate for zero vaccinations. Instead, they say to space it out.

    – your emotional point that spacing out vaccinations makes you “a bad parent” is a reach. Waiting a week or a month to get a MMR shot into your infant might mean a week or a month of higher risk, but what is the chance that in that time, said infant will run into a MMR-infected individual?

    Do any of the Wikipedia articles you found claim to know exactly what is going on chemically throughout the brain development process?

    Because until then, I find it hard to trust that injecting kids with chemicals that are otherwise labeled as toxic is a sure-fire good idea in all cases.

    Your post applies a good dose of common sense to a debate that is being media-fueled into something sensational (evil scientists, money-hungry corporations, dying babies, oh-my!), but I’m still not convinced that big-pharma has presented (or even learned) all the facts yet, so a definitive judgment remains un-renderable.

  4. @Thomas:

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I’m going to address them as honestly as I can.

    When faced with the choice between
    1. doing something (spacing out vaccines) that has an extremely small chance of addressing a possible but improbable risk (some interaction between the cocktail of vaccinations and your child, no evidence for this whatsoever) and 2. doing something (vaccinating at the recommended moment) that minimises a real risk (my child being exposed to infectious factors longer than necessary), the choice is quite clear.

    Although you might be right in that we don’t yet know what happens at molecular level (and we know far more than most people suspect), we do know that the relative risk of option 2 is much lower than that of option 1.

    I stand by my point that you’re being a bad parent if you choose 1. It’s an emotional choice based on allaying your own fears, and not on science.

  5. Good write up, Charl!

    I have re-blogged this, because I still cannot believe that there are people out there who believe in this FUD.


  6. I was given your link as this debate has come up again with my second child. I am a parent who chose to space out the vaccinations – just a response to your emotive plea: how would your vaccinated child be at risk from an upsurgence of diseases due to children not being vaccinated or delayed/spaced out?
    The research you have given of trials etc is limited. Large pharmaceutical companies are not to be trusted to develop a vaccine that does not make profit….ie suspend the partial or inactive virus in a non toxic ingredient (expensive) or shipping products past sell-by-date & effectivity. There are risks to injecting your child of a few months with any organism, and if you are breast feeding (mother to child immunity while their system develops) I believe that I am a good parent to delay or spread out this vaccine schedule (VS). My child is at home with me. I understand the national (& global) imperative to blanket our children’s VS, but reserve the right to make my own informed choice in this matter.

  7. @naulene:

    Thank you for stopping by, reading and commenting.

    On what scientific evidence is your assumption based that spacing out is safer? I would honestly like to know.

    Once again: 1. There is currently NO evidence that spacing out is safer. 2. There IS currently evidence that spacing out is riskier. Can you give me a good reason why you still choose to space vaccinations out? Do you know something that the rest of the scientific community does not?

  8. Dude, I really thought you were beating a dead horse (very effectively) until Naulene came along. So far for my Model of the World (MOWO 1.0) …

  9. naulene: to answer your question: “how would your vaccinated child be at risk from an upsurgence of diseases due to children not being vaccinated or delayed/spaced out?”

    …if your kid is not yet of age to get the vaccine, and some 5 yr old in the park gives her the mumps b/c his hippie mom opted not to vaccinate (anyone else see that Law and Order?)…the moral of the story is- herd immunity is important to our society as a whole- and our new and modern society has no memory of how awful some of these diseases were.

  10. How dare you make the statement “You are a bad parent if you do this”! You have no right to make that statement about any subject whatsoever, especially since people who are choosing not to vaccinate or to spread out vaccinations are likely doing so because of research, rather than just passively going along with what the doctor tells them to do. Shame on you for being so judgmental.

    1. Anonymous, you’re right, I should be more precise:

      You are an INCREDIBLY bad parent if you do not vaccinate.

      Even the original 1998 Wakefield article in the Lancet that caused this whole mess has been recently officially retracted. If you did in fact do your research, you can come to no other conclusion than that you should vaccinate.

      Thank you for correcting me!

  11. Charl and everyone,

    I wrote the first comment above, and in the time between then and now I’ve thought more about my thesis on this issue, and I’ve come to a better understanding about how viruses work and how the immune system deals with them.

    I restate that I’m not a doctor, so I must resort to simpler analogies to express my thoughts.

    The issue is with the idea of vaccinating infants with a slurry of dead viruses in a medium of preservatives and other liquids.

    An analogy might be to me having a gallon jug filled with water that also contained little granules of arsenic. Or lead. Or mercury.

    If I drink that entire gallon of water at one go (kind of like injecting a slug of vaccine into a baby), my system is overwhelmed.

    But the body looks at the contents of the recent addition and starts processing. Some water is absorbed, some flushed out. No problem there.

    The problem is with that arsenic/mercury/lead/etc. My body doesn’t quite know what to make of it, so some gets flushed, some hangs around in various tissues or in the blood stream, where it can go anywhere and either eventually lodge in tissue or get flushed.

    Because of decades of science, we know that all of the things mentioned are bad, and we know that many things bad for adults are even worse for children.

    But decades of science have also told us that things we “know” now often prove to be only *part* of the story when we see the results of further research.

    Back to my analogy.

    Injecting vaccines into kids is fine. The viruses are either dead or crippled, and as such any immune system worth its salt knows what to do with them, even the young ones. If there’s too much dead virus to process, the immune system just flushes it.

    The thing I wonder about is the other stuff. The medium is made of a witches brew of, essentially, chemicals that aim to preserve and hold the viruses in an economically efficient way.

    When those things hit the infant bloodstream, there is uncertainty about where to put them so they float around, either ultimately being flushed or lodging in a tissue somewhere.

    The questions I have – and the ones typically answered by drug company marketing/legal people rather than doctors – are about these aspects of the vaccine.

    People who have children know that we visit the doctor with astonishing frequency. Choosing to dose the children with one shot every week for four weeks feels more sensible than powering them all in at once (both to the loving parent and the poor nurse having to administer repeated shots to a screaming and terrified baby), and I reiterate that the risk of disease caused by this minimal lack of protection is less than that child being struck by lightning during the same timeframe.

    On a personal note – your continued efforts to shame your readers and commenters really is beneath your station as a medical professional, and probably damages your potential for being a leader on this issue more than it helps.

    There IS an uptick in the rate of diagnosed autism. I propose spending your energy researching and writing about what may be the true cause of this phenomenon instead.

    1. Dear Thomas,

      This comment, as is the case with your first one, is clearly the result of honest and logical consideration. I respond well to that. :) I don’t respond well to “how dare you”. ;)

      In any case: I’m a parent myself. I do have a feeling for the emotions and reflexes one has to deal with as a parent. However, I’m also a scientist. In this case, it’s in the best interest of one’s child to give preference to science, even when one’s parental instincts or intuition point in the opposite direction.

      I could start a long discussion on why this is so, but instead I’ll summarise with this:

      1. There is an uptick in the rate of diagnosed autism. Besides it being a relatively small uptick, there is also emerging consensus that it’s for a large part to the change in diagnostic methods (people are being diagnosed with autism more easily and also sooner).

      2. There is a significant increase in the incidence of measles. In the UK, it is almost at epidemic levels. There is consensus that this is due to the reduced uptake of MMR. There is no other possible explanation.

      Since the MMR scare, two kids have died in the UK of measles after a decade after no deaths. [1] Thanks to vaccine denialists, this is only going to increase.

      So one can keep on trying to think the problem through (and your comment is one of the more clear results of such thinking), but in the end the stats don’t lie. There is a definite and in-your-face link between no vaccination and measles. You can’t get around this. On the other hand, the link between vaccination and autism is dubious at best, and is getting more tenuous every day.

      Once again, this comes down to a very definite high risk vs. extremely low probability low risk choice. What do you choose?


  12. “You are a bad parent if you do this.”

    I was reading your article up to this point. Way to turn off a reader.

    1. @melissa: This post is not about making you feel good about yourself, it’s about telling you the truth.

      Consider first reading the whole thing before reacting.

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