This week, IA facts man John Turnbull looks at the not-at-all controversial topic of vaccines. Does vaccination cause autism? Are we giving our kids too much, too soon? Or is it all just an Illuminati conspiracy to control our minds?

Six Reasons to say NO! to vaccinations, according to thehealthyhomeeconomist.com:

1.   Pharmaceutical Companies Can’t Be Trusted

2.    ALL Vaccines are Loaded with Chemicals and other Poisons

3.    Fully Vaccinated Children are the Unhealthiest, Most Chronically Ill Children I Know

4.    Other Countries are Waking Up to the Dangers of Vaccines

5.    A Number of Vaccines Have Already Had Problems/Been Removed from the Market

6.    You Can Always Get Vaccinated, But You Can Never Undo a Vaccination

Hmmm…. I’m still not sure. 

There seems to be a lot of evidence that vaccines can prevent unpleasant and unnecessary death… What does Health Ranger Mike Adams have to say?

Well, that’s pretty convincing. Case closed.

What’s that? You want me to think for myself? 

Sigh… If you insist.

What are Vaccines?

Medicines Australia defines a vaccine as follows:

A vaccine is any preparation intended to produce immunity to a disease by stimulating the production of antibodies. Vaccines include, for example, suspensions of killed or attenuated microorganisms, or products or derivatives of microorganisms. The most common method of administering vaccines is by injection, but some are given by mouth or nasal spray.

Unlike traditional pharmaceuticals, vaccines are prophylactic medicines designed to prevent rather than treat disease. Essentially vaccines help reduce the risk of a disease by introducing a killed or attenuated version of the disease-causing organism to the body’s immune system. If our immune system then encounters the disease-causing germ, quick recognition allows our body to fight infection with a rapid and effective immune response. In this way, vaccines mimic the body’s natural immunity.

What’s the Harm? I had measles as a kid and I was fine.

Sure. Most healthy people will survive a dose of measles, mumps or rubella — the three bugs covered by the MMR vaccine. But not everyone. 

The good folks at the World Health Organisation report annual mortality rates of 158,000 people for measles, while rubella in pregnant women can result in miscarriage, feotal death or congenital birth defects. Mumps sucks when you’re a kid but as an adult can result in meningitis or orchitis, which isn’t as nice as it sounds, trust me.

Pertussis is another vaccine-preventable disease that causes around 300,000 deaths annually, mostly among young children.

All of these conditions could be wiped out with dedicated program of vaccinations — a worthy goal frustrated by science-deniers and privileged imbeciles who think that just because they don’t know anyone who has died of a vaccine preventable disease, it doesn’t happen.

Do Vaccines cause Autism?

No. Categorically not. Anyone who is still claiming a vaccine / autism link in 2014 is wilfully ignoring the mountain of scientific evidence to the contrary. 

An important point: I am not saying that Vaccines are risk free and neither is anyone else.

Like any science-based medical intervention, there will be a small percentage of people who react badly. Potential adverse reactions to vaccines include fever, headaches, allergic reaction, seizures and even brain damage. The odds of a severe reaction to a vaccine are low (anything from one in one hundred thousand to one in a million depending on the specific vaccine) but risk factors do exist.

Who keeps pushing this bollocks?

While original anti-vax proponent Andrew Wakefield has long been discredited, stripped of his medical licence and held up to ridicule, the effects of his deception continue to linger.

The Australian Vaccination Network are repeat offenders. Despite the fact that AVN president Meryl Dorey was comprehensively taken apart by the formidable Tracy Spicer, frequent orders from the NSW Department of Fair Trading to change their name and general contempt from anyone who knows anything about science, the AVN continue to spread misinformation and lies about vaccines.

Unfortunately, Meryl isn’t the only one.

In addition to usual suspects, like Mike Adams and Joe Mercola, former actor and intellectual (not really) Jenny McCarthy has jumped on the bandwagon with wackaloon ideas from Indigo Children to Green Our Vaccines. It seems counter-intuitive that people would actually lobby for a movement that causes the death of children, but ignorance is a dangerous thing.

Many of these purveyors of woo hide behind sciencey-sounding websites, such as the misleadingly named International Medical Council on Vaccination — a site supposedly run by ‘hundreds of medical doctors’. Upon deeper examination, most articles are written by the same handful of people parroting the same anti-vax rubbish — including the head scratching claim that vaccines have never eradicated a disease and then, in the same sentence, mentioning polio and smallpox, two diseases that have been eradicated by vaccines.

What do the Authorities say?

The World Health Organisation states that vaccines are very safe and provides a handy guide to the plethora of vaccine myths that will no doubt appear in the comments section once the AVN crowd read this article.

The Australian Government Department of Health concurs and says:     

Immunisation has been demonstrated repeatedly to be one of the most effective medical interventions we have to prevent disease. Worldwide, it has been estimated that immunisation currently saves 3 million lives each year. Immunisation not only protects individuals, but also protects others in the community (for example those who are too young to be immunised or those that are not able to be immunised for medical reasons) by increasing the overall level of immunity in the population and thus minimising the spread of infection.

So what about the six reasons?

1. Pharmaceutical Companies Can’t Be Trusted

Partially true but entirely irrelevant.  Are petrochemical companies trustworthy? Based on their environmental history I would say not, but you still fill up your car every week. It’s not a matter of trusting Big Pharma (as the conspiracy fans like to call it), more a case of looking at the evidence for and against vaccines.

2. ALL Vaccines are Loaded with Chemicals and other Poisons

False. This shows a fundamental understanding of what vaccines are. Vaccines are developed to target specific bugs, and throwing in a bunch of random poisons would be counterproductive, to say the least.

3. Fully Vaccinated Children are the Unhealthiest, Most Chronically Ill Children I Know

Opinion based on confirmation bias. If you’re looking for sick kids who have been vaccinated, chances are that you’ll remember when you meet them. It works the same way for blue cars or windmills on long trips.

4. Other Countries are Waking Up to the Dangers of Vaccines

False. Aside from the standard regulatory focus (like investigating claims of vaccine damage when they are made) all first world governments recommend vaccination

5. A Number of Vaccines Have Already Had Problems/Been Removed from the Market

True. As in the development of any medical treatment, improvements will be made over the lifetime of the product. While modern medicine is remarkable, it is not magic.

6. You Can Always Get Vaccinated, But You Can Never Undo a Vaccination

False. You can’t get vaccinated for a pathogen that you already have. Once you get the Mumps it’s too late to do anything about it – you just have to sit there and watch your testicles swell to the size of grapefruit. While it’s technically true that you can’t ‘undo’ a vaccination, some vaccinations do wear off after a few years.

Final Thoughts

Based on my understanding of the available information, vaccines are one of the greatest inventions of modern medicine and those who spread misinformation about their potential harm are causing the deaths of innocent children.

No medical intervention is 100% safe.

Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

Talk to a doctor, or a scientist. Read different sources and make your own decisions.

Think for yourself.

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