Despite the progress over the last 20 years we still have a long way to go when it comes to immunisation.
Currently there is research into vaccination for all sorts of illnesses and infections such as malaria, Tuberculosis and HIV and even cancers. But in some ways eradication of illnesses that used to be the scourge of childhood such as polio, diphtheria and smallpox has been so successful that the new generations now question vaccinations. In Australia there are a handful of cases of measles each year, usually brought in from overseas. And these are generally in adults. Yet in 2008 164000 children died of measles throughout the World. The difference lies in the fact that we approach 90% immunity because of our vaccination program whereas some African Asian nations do not have an adequate public health infrastructure.
As a practitioner I vaccinate up to 100 children a week. I have never seen a serious permanent side effect from doing this. But this procedure has saved countless lives. Vaccination is passive and unseen. No one ever has given a thank you note or gift to a doctor for vaccinating their child, but this is the whole idea of prevenative medicine. It is far better to prevent a death than to heroically try and save a dying child.
The anti vaccination groups are as active as ever in Australia and their arguments have not changed in the last century. The most common reasons parents do not immunise are as follows:
1. They do not believe that immunisations work and that the decrease in disease is because of improved living standards.
To counter this we simply need to look at the most recent vaccines and their affect on disease rates. There has been a marked drop in the incidence of epiglottiis and meningitis since the vaccine for Haemophilus Type B was introduced in 1993. The pneumoccocus vaccine was introduced in 2000 and there has been a 60% decline in pneumonia and meningitis due to this organism.
2. The perceived side effects of vaccines.
This has recently been the most common reason for not vaccinating. The MMR and autism controversy – which has since been shown to be completey incorrect – has markedly dropped the rate of MMR uptake particularly in the UK and USA . This has resulted in a return of measles outbreaks with a significant number of deaths. These outbreaks occurred in unvaccinated groups. In this medicolegal world we live in if there was any truth to some of the outrageous claims about vaccinations the companies responsible for manufacture would simple cease to produce it fearing legal action. The MMR autism fiasco has resulted in untold millions wasted on proving what was already known, that is the MMR vaccine is safe.
3. Cause and effect.
The internet is full of anecdotal claims that a vaccine caused a particular problem. But lets apply some science. An infant is vaccinated at 0,2,4,6,12, 18 months of age. So this frequency means that if any illness is diagnosed in an infant then it will have occurred after a vaccination. Therefore a parent may well link the illness to the vaccination. This has been common place with autism. Many parents blame vaccination for there autistic child, because the child was diagnosed during the second year (usually), and therefore after vaccination. The flaw in this argument is that when analysing populations there is no difference in the rate of autism in the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated. To show the flaw in the argument lets look at a different example as an analogy. Some parents will have a car accident, on the way home after a vaccination. Does this mean that vaccinations cause car accidents ? Clearly this is ridiculous but it shows that just because an event occurs after a vaccination it does not necessarily mean it was a result of the vaccination.
4. Too many vaccines
There is a claim that too many vaccines ‘overwhelm the immune system’. Again there is no evidence for this. The current schedule involves a list of 16 diseases. The vaccines for these contain 170 antigens or ‘active vaccine components’. Sounds a lot until you realise that the body is constantly bombarded with 1000s of antigens via food and other organisms every day. In addition the number of antigens given in vaccines has markedly reduced as they become more refined. In contrast the three vaccines included in the 1980 schedule prevented eight diseases but represented 3,041 separate antigens. The idea that separating vaccines makes them safer and more effective is untrue.
5. Alternative practitioner argument.
Some chiropractors, homeopaths, naturopaths etc. are against vaccination. Citing some strange concept that it is unnatural. They even suggest the body should get these diseases ‘naturally to develop natural immunity’. This is truly one of the most bizarre ant vaccination arguments. I do not think letting a child catch meningitis naturally is a particularly sound heatlh philosophy, but we are heading towards witchcraft science. Neveretheless these kind of discussion regularly occurs and creates a seed of doubt in a parent who may decided to delay or not vaccinate.