Tuesday, December 23, 2008

To Vaccinate or Not? A Story To Put The Question In Context

This American Life did a wonderful story on a measles epidemic, and in doing so, brought up the question about whether or not kids should get vaccinated. Quick, if you act now, you can listen to the free podcast here.

Not only is it good story telling, but it makes an honest attempt at covering the argument from all angles. They even found a mom who was resisting getting vaccinated, and then had strong words against the family who didn't get vaccinated - which is exactly the path she was headed down.

What I found most telling was how clear they were on the topic of evidence that the vaccine does harm to children. Specifically, they addressed the article I've heard of where vaccines are linked to autism. Apparently, that paper has been withdrawn by the majority of its authors:

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield headed a group of researchers in publishing a much-disputed study that suggested a possible link between autism and the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. Since then, several studies have found no clear evidence to link MMR and autism, and all major health organizations - including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization - have rejected Dr. Wakefield's claims. Still, fear of the MMR vaccine has caused some parents to avoid immunizing their children, leaving them susceptible to diseases that once killed thousands.

Now, 10 out of its 13 authors are retracting, or taking back, the controversial 1998 study. The Lancet, the journal in which the 1998 study was published, printed the retraction in the March 6 issue. The authors write: "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."

This page continues to outline 3 reasons why the study was "critically flawed."

Yes, there is evidence presented to show that autism and vaccines are linked. Though, science, it appears, is quite clearly on the side of vaccination, as that evidence isn't based on firm scientific ground. The reasons to avoid vaccination, as presented in the story, had more to do with trust of the system, which of course is nearly impossible to tackle.

This is definitely worth a listen, if only as an example of how an issue like this can be played out so strongly.


  1. Anonymous9:47 AM


    Please, vaccinate you kids!

    If you're still unsure, please see your closest immunologist to explain why, not only should you vaccinate your kids, but also how T cells, B cells, dendritic cells, basophils, Macrophages, antibodies, cytokines, and chemokines all work in concert to keep you in existence.

  2. Anonymous9:13 PM

    My understanding of this issue is that there are those who take issue not with the vaccines themselves but A) the chemical additives in the vaccines to stabilize/preserve them (yes, I know thimerosal has been removed from everything except the flu vax) and B) the number of vaccines given simultaneously. There isn't enough research to prove or disprove these theories, however.

    I would theorize (as a completely nonscientific individual) that immunization does pose risks for certain children. Especially given (and Dr. David, please correct me if I am wrong) the fact that children's immune systems are not fully developed until they are around 6 years old. Combine that with the lack of immune system support in young children in this country as a result of appallingly low breastfeeding rates. End result: I can easily see where a subset of kids may be set up by genetics and circumstance to be at risk for a vaccine-related injury.

    Breastfeed your kids!

    Please, breastfeed your kids!


  3. Jerserygirl77 -

    That's a very good point. David - what are your thoughts on the comments?

    I guess your point also goes back to the good-of-the-many-versus-the-good-of-the-one argument they raise in the story.

    That is, yes, your child could hurt by the vaccine - but if enough parents don't get their children vaccinated, we'd be back to the days of polio, measles, etc. devastating many, many, many lives.

    Of course, that argument doesn't really jive when it's your child who's the one who gets sick.