Friday, February 15, 2013

The Vaccine War: Needs of the many versus the few

Ever since the first vaccine was developed for smallpox was developed, vaccine development have prevented many potential epidemics and is one of medicines greatest achievements. Despite the apparent benefits to mankind, groups that oppose the use, distribution and development of vaccines have sprung up around the country. The Vaccine War is a documentary produced by Frontline that showcases representatives of groups that have different reasons for putting the hate on vaccines and contrasts their opinions with the scientific evidence and opinions of the proponents and developers of vaccines.

The documentary starts off discussing the claim that infant should not be vaccinated because the prevalence of the conditions that is immunized against is very low. For example, this group of people claim that since Polio prevalence is nonexistent, babies should not be given the polio vaccine. The main with this is that the cause of the low prevalence of Polio is because almost every child and adult is vaccinated against Polio, so if there a potential outbreak of polio which could kick start an epidemic, effectively no one gets infected. They also claim that Polio has been eradicated, just as smallpox has been eradicated (smallpox vaccine is no longer required nowadays). Polio is very virulent and can spread extreme quickly. So if there someone who is not vaccine against smallpox happen to come across the polio virus in the jungle or something and return to an unvaccinated population, a crisis would ensue because suddenly there is a spike in infection. Without a doubt, the polio vaccine will no longer be required in the future, but for now, it’s a safe choice to keep the polio vaccine on the schedule.

Then the documentary shows a group that claims that children should be raised naturally without any medical intervention. “Children are supposed to get sick,” says one lady.  While I agree that it’s important for the child to develop the adaptive immune system (i.e. chickenpox, colds), I don’t think allowing a baby to get tetanus, whooping cough or measles is any good for the baby’s development and wellbeing. Sure, it’s good that if a child can develop his or her immune system by getting a little cough or fever, but putting the child at the risk of a lethal condition is in no way a good idea or natural.

The last and the biggest group of opposition claim that vaccines cause autism in children. This group managed to get a huge following because celebrities got involved as well. People whose children because austistic some time after the children were vaccinated had huge demonstrations and rally. They claim that certain components of vaccines are causing austism in children. The documentary then showed that there has been many epidemiological studys done on seeing if there were an association between vaccines and autism; All of the studies concluded that there is no correlation between vaccine use and autism. The main spokesperson of this group, Jenny McCarty, said “I don’t need scientific evidence, [my autistic son] is evidence,” is an example of the group’s disregard of the facts and their penchant for gut feelings and unsupported claims. I think the problem here is that the parents of autistic children are simply finding something and someone to blame (it’s just human: My child is autistic. It can’t be my fault. It’s the vaccine he had last month. That must be it.). As the documentary points out, autism usually comes about at the same time frame children are scheduled to get their vaccines. This is just another cause of correlation doesn’t mean causation.

 The documentary was obviously more biased towards the proponents of vaccines, since it always had a commentary or a speaker who would essentially debunk and humble the claims of every single anti-vaccine speaker. So watching this documentary didn’t sway my opinion on vaccines at all, since I’m all for vaccinations.  But I wasn’t aware that the anti-vaccine moment is based on such unsupported claims and theories. I thought that they may have legitimate and rational reason to oppose vaccines but no. Moreover, they are stubborn in their opinions  even after they were given scientific evidence that they were wrong.

Vaccines has a positive externalities; in other words, the consumption/use of vaccines have indirect benefits to people around the consumer as well as direct benefits to the consumer. If person A is vaccinated, his roommate benefits as well because person A is unable to be infect and get his roommate sick as well. If we scale this up, the more vaccinated people there are, the more people benefit from not having sick people around. This increases the general health of society and economic productivity because people have less sick days. This is called herd immunity. If an unvaccinated person were infected, the spread of the disease is easily contained because there are less vectors of transmission, preventing an endemic. But if we decrease the percent of vaccinated people in the population, there is a tipping point where herd immunity not longer exsist; At this point, if a person were infected, there’s not enough vaccine people to contain the spread which would result in worldwide panic and tumult.

Unless they have known allergic reactions to the vaccines, ideally all infants should be vaccinated not only for their own health but also for the health of their family and society. But I still believe that people have the right to choose if they want a vaccine or not based on religious, cultural or personal reasons.

I think one of the reasons why people don’t want vaccine is because they really know about the diseases they prevent. If they don’t know the full extent of the problems the lack of vaccines would cause, they can’t possibly see how the benefits outweighs the consequences. The public needs to be educated of the time when there was no vaccines, the time when small pox probably killed one or more person in your family, and the jubilant time when the vaccine for smallpox was distributed. People take vaccines for granted now because they just don’t know what the world would look like without them (and it would probably be a scary world due to the higher transmission rates caused by modern transportation and connections).  Though, I believe in time most people will see how the benefits of vaccines greatly outweigh the consequences just as how most people now see that the earth revolves around the sun rather than the inverse.


  1. I really enjoyed your post. You organized it in a way that made a lot of sense, while also reminding the reader of the important aspects of the movie. I very much appreciated the way you provided a summary, despite it not actually being one of the questions we needed to answer. Your acknowledgement of the biases in the film was very well done as well. I also felt that the video was biased, but did not include that in my post, which I wish I had. I thought you explained well why people are afraid of diseases, however I wish you had included more ideas on how to make vaccines more prevalent. I felt as though you didn't fully answer that question.

  2. Thanks for your post, as I mentioned after Abby's and Leslie's post:

    While the MMR-autism link has been debunked, the fraudulent connection of vaccines to autism continues to hamper vaccination efforts. In general though, if parents perceive a vaccine to be of little or marginal benefit to their child, any possibility of individual risk is reason enough not to vaccinate.

    Think of these other reasons why children may not receive the recommended vaccines:
    -Fear of side effects of the vaccine
    -Cost of the vaccine
    -Pain associated with administration
    -lack of knowledge re: contraindication
    -poor reimbursement (or reimbursement under cost of vaccine)
    -poor follow-up
    -inadequate understanding re: vaccine intervals and make-up vaccine schedules
    Healthcare system:
    -money for vaccination used for more dangerous diseases
    -a shift in priority to chronic disease
    -poor emphasis on prevention

    In future posts consider greater attention to grammar and spelling. There are several occasions in your post where autism is misspelled and there is improper noun/verb agreement.