The Case Against Immunization

There is a lot of speculation about the serious negative effects of immunization. Many parents are concerned over the safety and necessity of vaccines. Some believe that vaccines will cause serious health problems, like diabetes or autism. Other parents feel that vaccines simply are not necessary because these diseases hardly ever make an appearance where they live. Are these parents right? Are vaccines a needless threat to your child's health? Or are some parents just over reacting?

Immunization and Mercury
One of the big controversies swirling around vaccines today is the fact that vaccines in the past have contained a form of mercury. Mercury is well known as a toxic substance to humans. It has been known to cause developmental delays in children who were exposed to high levels before they were born.

Since the 1930s, vaccines have contained a byproduct of mercury known as thimerosal, which was used as a preservative. This exposure to thimerosal caused many parents to be concerned that the mercury would cause brain damage or even autism in their children. Although the amount of mercury found in each immunization shot was extremely low, and therefore not associated with mercury toxicity, parents were still concerned. Since children can receive a number of immunizations at one time, the amount of mercury children were receiving at one time had the potential of exceeding the recommended amount.

While no studies have been able to find a conclusive link between mercury in vaccines and autism or brain damage, manufacturers and health officials all agreed that mercury was not an acceptable part of children's vaccines. As a result, by 1997 all of Canada had stopped using vaccines that contained thimerosal. In an effort to completely eliminate vaccines that contain mercury, the United States began manufacturing immunizations without thimerosal in May of 2000.

The United Kingdom has also recently announced that it will discontinue using vaccines that have thimerosal in them. In other parts of the world, parents can choose whether or not they would like a thimerosal free vaccine for their child. As more and more vaccines stop being produced with thimerosal, the anxiety over mercury exposure no longer needs to concern parents.

DPT and Brain Damage
There has been speculation that the DTP vaccine caused brain damage in children. However, studies done to determine whether or not this claim was true found no conclusive evidence to implicate the vaccine. What the DTP vaccine had been linked to, though, was febrile seizures, albeit a bit indirectly.

Febrile seizures occur in infants and young children and are caused by high fevers. Generally, they last for a minute or two but can be longer or shorter. Since high fevers can be a side effect of vaccinations, there is a chance that your child could have a febrile seizure as a result of the high fever that was brought on by the vaccine. It is important to point out, though, that febrile seizures are not a sign of epilepsy and there is no evidence to support the claim that they cause brain damage.

The claim that DTP caused brain damage mainly seemed to apply to the pertussis vaccines that were made from whole-cell pertussis bacteria. These vaccinations had a tendency to cause more side effects and as a result, a new vaccine was produced. This one uses only part of the pertussis bacteria and is called the acellular pertussis vaccine. Use of DTaP has proven to result in fewer side effects in children and is now the common form of DTP vaccine used in Canada and the United States.

In the past, DTP vaccines had also been blamed as a cause for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). During the 1970s, the worry over SIDS made Japan change the age of DTP immunization from three months to two years. As a result, the incidents of SIDS seemed to disappear over night. For many people, this only proved that DTP vaccines were guilty in causing SIDS deaths. Unfortunately, what happened in Japan was a bit misleading.

When Japan changed the age of vaccination to two years, parents could no longer file damage claims blaming the DTP vaccine for their child's SIDS death. SIDS rates did not decline when parents vaccinated their children at a later age. However, the number of children that died from the whopping cough during this time did increase.

In fact, it is speculated that DTP vaccines may actually offer some form of protection against SIDS. A study done at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Bristol, England found that babies who had received their DTP immunization had a slightly lower chance of dying from SIDS than those babies who had not been immunized.

MMR and Autism
Another argument against vaccinations that has gained some popularity recently is the likelihood that the MMR vaccine causes autism. This claim gained more legitimacy in 1998 when Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues published a report on this topic in Lancet, a well-respected medical journal. In their findings, the research team said that MMR vaccines led to intestinal problems causing serious health and development problems.

However, this study had many flaws associated with it and has been proven incorrect many times over. In fact, 10 of the 13 researchers of the 1998 Wakefield study have since come forward to say that their findings were insufficient to provide proper evidence of a link between immunization and autism.

Since the MMR vaccine is administered when a baby reaches 12 months, and since the signs of autism tend to become more apparent when a child reaches 12 months, it is easy to assume that the two are related. However, various studies have shown autism to be a genetic disease in which case the MMR vaccine would play no role as a cause of autism.

Vaccines and Diabetes
It had been proposed that vaccines cause or make people more susceptible to diabetes. The arguments against vaccines claim that immunizations can alter or weaken the immune system thereby making a person more vulnerable to developing diabetes. Since diagnosis of type 1 diabetes has been on the rise in the developed world, more people are looking to vaccines as the cause. But are people looking to the right place?

A recent study conducted in Denmark by the Statens Serum Institute has concluded that vaccines do not affect the likelihood of a person developing diabetes. The study examined all children born in Denmark between 1990 and 2000. In total, 681 cases of type 1 diabetes were diagnosed. When the researchers compared the data of children who had been vaccinated with those children who had not been vaccinated, their findings showed no difference in numbers. This means that about the same number of children who were vaccinated developed diabetes as those who were not vaccinated but also developed diabetes.

The Good Part About Being Skeptical
Questioning the legitimacy and safety of vaccines is not necessarily a bad thing. Thanks to parents concerns over the risks of immunization, vaccines are now monitored to ensure their safety. New vaccines are continually being developed that have fewer side effects and lower the risk of serious effects as well. Combination immunizations are also being developed so kids don't have to experience so many needles.

Reporting any serious side effects your child experiences after a vaccine is also important. Notifying your child's health care provider or your local health department of serious problems can alert them to any troubles with the vaccine. If many parents complain of similar side effects, then health officials can examine if it was just one particular batch that was off or if it is something related specifically to the vaccine. This is also why it is important to make sure that your child's health care provider writes down the vial and batch number of any injection they administer.

Receiving a vaccine is considered to be a medical procedure. As with any medical procedure, there are risks involved and it is important to be informed of the associated risks. However, parents should also realize that, when it comes to immunizations, all of the world's leading experts on health care agree: vaccines save millions of lives every year and are an important part of child health care.

Here are some helpful resources for the most up-to-date information on vaccines:

American Academy of Pediatrics or

Canadian Paediatric Society or

Immunization Action Coalition

National Immunization Program

World Health Organization

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