If you live in the United States, then it's likely you've run across an anti-vaxxer or at least heard stories about them. Proclaiming themselves as saviors of the human race, anti-vaxxers were at one time harmless idiots that were so rare you need not worry about them. Problem is, this group has grown, and with it, the danger to society has grown as well.
Since 1796 when Edward Jenner first tested the use of Cowpox as a protective measure against smallpox, we have been developing vaccines and in turn protecting the general population from a range of horrid diseases. In the short 200 year history of vaccinations, we've managed to completely eradicate smallpox, and almost completely eliminate polio, measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, and other diseases. All of these diseases are preventable and for a very low cost.
Unfortunately, we are now seeing the return of some diseases as young children and adults who were never vaccinated start to come in contact with these diseases at an increasing rate. We can trace this trend back to one person in particular, Andrew Wakefield. If you know the background of Andrew Wakefield, then you have looked upon someone who might as well be the next incarnation of the devil.
What makes Andrew such a deplorable human being? It's the way he started the anti-vaxxers down their ill-fated path. Andrew authored a scientific paper in the journal "The Lancet" in 1998.
Wakefield and 12 other authors proclaimed that there was a tie between certain vaccines and autism. In the publication, the authors pointed the finger at the MMR vaccine, in particular, claiming that 8 of the 12 children in the study developed autistic behaviors within 2 weeks of the MMR vaccine being administered.
Wakefield also took to the press to demand the MMR vaccine be withdrawn and this act alone was a major catalyst to the current anti-vaxx crazies that roam the streets. Wakefield had not even published the paper when he took the story to the press. Wakefield claimed to be doing this for the interest of the public. He was hiding a secret about the study though... he made up the data!
Andrew Wakefield had performed the study after he was hired by a lawyer. The lawyer was preparing a lawsuit against MMR vaccine producers and wanted a link between the vaccine and side effects in an effort to make their suit more powerful. This major conflict of interest alone should have been enough to call into question the findings of the study. Wakefield took things a step further though and changed the data in the study to fit what the desired outcome was.
In 2010, the journal retracted the study and Wakefield lost his license. Charges against Wakefield included the following:
- He was paid for the results of the study to match lawyers desires
- Ordering medical tests not indicated by patient history and without approval
- Withheld how patients were recruited into the study
- Paid for children's blood samples at his son's birthday party
- Showed disregard for distress or pain of children in the study
- Did not gain ethics approval for the study
7 years after Wakefield lost his license, we are still battling an anti-vaccine movement based completely on myth and a made up study.
The New Anti-Vaxxer
Now anti-vaxxers have expanded their excuses for deciding not to vaccinate their children and they are all just as flawed as the original study that sparked this craze.
One of the top excuses I've heard floated is that current vaccines have mercury in them and that causes autism.
This flawed logic likely stems from the fact that mercury causes neurological disorders, but completely ignores the fact that there is no mercury in modern vaccines. What anti-vaxxers have glommed on to is that in the past, vaccines have used thimerosal to prevent to growth of bacteria and fungus within the vaccine itself. Mercury is one of a long line of atoms that makes up thimerosal.
The chemical makeup for thimerosal is C9H9HgNaO2S, as you can see Mercury (Hg) is only one part of the makeup of this compound. Having mercury as part of a compound does not automatically give the compound the same health effects of the atoms that make up the compound. A great example is Chlorine, in gaseous form Chlorine is very toxic to breath in, but bind it with sodium and you create table salt. Salt is harmless in most applications and when eaten in small doses.
Anti-vaxxers position on thimerosal gets even worse when you realize that the CDC had thimerosal removed from all vaccines in 1999 as an additional precaution in case it was harmful. So every vaccine administered since 1999 has contained no mercury at all.
More information can be found on the CDC website here.
Vaccine to Autism Rates
Locking down the rates of autism claimed by vaccine detractors is a difficult number to find since scientific articles and studies do not support this idea. However, even if it was true that vaccines caused autism, then it would still be worth administering vaccines.
When accounting for all of the deadly or disabling diseases we vaccinate against, current autism rates would not justify us eliminating vaccines. Since the link isn't actually true, we should not give the idea any thought.
Anti-vaxxers often focus on a single made up figure, autism rates. When this is your sole focus, you are going to miss the bigger picture. Vaccines are not just protecting the individual that it is administered to, there is such thing as herd immunity.
Throughout the world there are people who are unable to receive vaccines. Such cases are often the result of individual allergies to either the vaccine, or the person could be immunocomprimised.
People that are unable to receive a vaccine must rely on this herd immunity concept. Protection for such people is completely reliant on as many people in society being vaccinated as possible. If society is immune, then the disease has little chance to be carried to a person unable to be vaccinated. Here in lies a large flaw in the anti-vaxxers position. By not taking a vaccine, you are not just putting yourself or kids at risk, but you can now act as a carrier to those unable to receive a vaccine.
Growth in Autism Numbers
If there is no link between autism and vaccines, where is the increased number of autism cases coming from?
There really is a simple answer for this. Over the last few decades, autism has gained more publicity and better detection methods. Prior to being called autism, many cases likely were misdiagnosed or just written off under a colloquial term. As detection methods became more accurate, and as autism knowledge became more widespread, the more cases were diagnosed. This really is a case of a disease being better defined and easier to diagnose.
Knowledge is power. If you want to read the studies that back up what I've said in this article, here is a list of studies you can read, and please, for everyone's safety, get yourself and your kids vaccinated.