Vaccines save millions and harm a few

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The Article

There can be no doubt that vaccines represent one of the most significant advances in medical history. The smallpox virus has been eradicated. Polio, tetanus and diphtheria are virtually unknown to immunized populations in developed countries.

But as the memory of disease fades, increasing numbers are choosing to take their chances with the horrors of disease rather than risk complications from immunization.

Sometime actress and full-time anti-vaccine activist Jenny McCarthy has been creating headlines since claiming that the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) caused her son’s autism. She has since helped him with diet changes and alternative therapies, but his partial recovery only makes her claims more powerful.

Most recently, she was welcomed into Oprah’s media empire. McCarthy will blog on Oprah’s website and some suggest she may soon have her own talk show, just like former Oprah-endorsees Dr. Phil and Rachael Ray. This is creating great alarm in the medical profession, where doctors worry about the potent combination of her personal story and her dismissal of medical studies that refute her claims to vilify immunization. Frankly, as long as she has Oprah, it doesn’t matter if she has science on her side.

The safety of the MMR vaccine and thimerosal (the preservative agent in some vaccines) has been questioned ever since a 1998 study in the Lancet first claimed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Other studies made similar claims in the years that followed.

But these studies have been largely refuted by newer and larger medical studies. A study in the 2008 Archives of General Psychiatry showed no corresponding decrease in the rate of autism following the 2001 removal of thimerosal from vaccines in California. In fact, autism rates in Denmark increased after removing thimerosal from vaccines. Just last month, aU. S. court was asked to determine if parents who claimed their child’s autism was caused by the MMR vaccine should be compensated. The judges reviewed 5,000 pages of expert testimony and 939 scientific articles before concluding there was no valid vaccine-autism link.

New revelations have also refuted earlier medical claims. It was discovered that the author of the 1998 Lancet study had received money to assist parents in suing the vaccine manufacturers, had applied for a patent on an alternative vaccine to MMR and had studied children whose hospital records showed developmental problems existed prior to vaccination. Those factors reduce the study’s credibility to zero.

Despite this, some still hesitate to vaccinate kids and there’ve been outbreaks of whooping cough, mumps and diphtheria in Australia, Europe and other countries.

Why do they ignore the medical evidence? Because there are many individual stories of negative outcomes from vaccines and they often have some validity. No matter how successful vaccines are in wiping out disease on a worldwide scale, individuals can still get sick from vaccines; and no matter how many medical studies deny vaccine-disease links, they still occur. There are always some individuals who will lose the statistical lottery and be negatively affected by a host of expected and unexpected complications/side-effects that are a part of any vaccine or drug.

For example, immunization against hepatitis B is essentially mandatory for Grade 5 children in Alberta. There have long been suggested links between that vaccine and Type I Diabetes. Medical studies disprove that link in the general population, but doctors and diabetic clinic workers will still mention the shot as one of the varied factors that might cause the disease. And mothers will still question the shot when their children are diagnosed with diabetes a year or two after receiving it.

Similarly, the Gardasil vaccine is being pushed on our nine-year old girls with the promise that it will spare them from HPV infections and cervical cancer. The whole population may benefit in some way, but individuals may not. In its first two years of use, it was associated with 32 deaths, paralysis and a higher risk of stroke, cardiac arrest, emergency room visits, etc. How can you tell the parents of these children that the Gardasil vaccine is safe?

There will always be two sides in the vaccine debate simply because public officials and the medical community will always argue it’s best for the population, while some individuals will always know it wasn’t the best for them.

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Joel Johannesen
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