Let’s Talk About Vaccines

Let’s Talk About Vaccines

Written by Joshua “Proven Paradox” Franklin
Published 5 December 2018

A doctor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo receives an Ebola vaccine in May 2018. (JUNIOR KANNAH/AFP/Getty Images, via arstechnica.com)

This brief article is the result of a request by one of our followers for a brief overview of vaccine safety and effectiveness. It highlights some questions that people may have about this topic and provides some links to supporting information.

DISCLAIMER: This article is NOT meant to be a substitute for advice from a trained physician. You should always talk to your doctor about any pharmaceuticals or medical procedures, including vaccines.

Q: Why do there seem to be more vaccine shots now than there used to be?

Because there are.

TL;DR: We have developed new vaccines for new diseases. These are delivered through additional shots.

Q: Are vaccines safe for children?

Yes.

TL;DR: There have been numerous studies on vaccine safety. The repeated conclusion is that vaccines are safe. For further reading regarding general safety concerns, this article links to several studies, reports, and even a few court cases regarding vaccine safety.

Unless a patient’s immune system is somehow compromised–something your doctor would tell you about well before you or your children get any shots–there are no reasons to not get vaccinated. Even in the case of immunocompromised patients, there are guidelines for administering some vaccines safely, which you can read about here:

(This article should not be taken as medical advice, and if you have concerns you should speak to a medical professional.)

Q: Is there a link between autism and vaccines?

Absolutely not. What you have heard about vaccines causing autism is false.

TL;DR: The paper that first found that link was based on fraudulent science that was influenced by financial incentives to paint vaccines as unsafe. The paper has since been retracted. The lead name on that paper, Andrew Wakefield, “had been funded by lawyers who had been engaged by parents in lawsuits against vaccine-producing companies” and has since been found guilty of deliberate fraud. If not convinced by a single article, this article contains links to numerous other sources for further reading.

Q: But aren’t autism rates on the rise?

Sort of. But this is for reasons unrelated to vaccines.

TL;DR: The perceived increase in autism rates happens because we are more actively monitoring for autism AND that our criteria for giving an autism diagnosis have become much more relaxed over time. While there are a few other factors that might be causing autism rates to rise slightly, none of them are linked to vaccines. When you hear about autism rates rising, it is probably because we are getting better at finding it.

Q: Why should I vaccinate myself/my children?

First, there are several diseases that were once deadly but are now mostly forgotten in rich nations. Here is a list of 14 of them, with links for further reading about each of them. These are diseases that killed and maimed people. Today we’re safe from them thanks to vaccines.Second, because of herd immunity.

TL;DR: A disease must infect people to spread. If a population has enough immune (read: vaccinated) people, the disease cannot find people to infect, and therefore cannot spread. Because of this, even people who are not vaccinated–whether it’s because of an immune system problem that keeps them from being vaccinated, or because they’re the unfortunate children of anti-vaxxers–are less likely to catch a disease when other people get vaccinated.

Q: Those diseases have been dealt with. Why should we keep getting vaccines against them?

While no longer a general threat, most of these diseases do still exist, and if immunity is not maintained, they can still make a comeback.

TL;DR: Diseases that have been virtually eliminated in the US are still around in other countries. Individuals travelling to those countries can bring the disease back with them. There are also vaccine preventable diseases that, while rare, are still found in the US. Appropriately vaccinated individuals generally have nothing to worry about from these circumstances. Without a vaccination–or proper booster shots, in the case of diseases such as mumps and whooping cough, whose vaccine protection wanes over time and needs to be repeated throughout one’s life–these preventable diseases still pose a threat.

Conclusion

Vaccines are safe, except in very extreme cases. Not getting vaccinated is not safe. The scientific consensus on this is unambiguous. Unless there is a specific medical complication involved, refusing vaccines is deeply irresponsible, as it puts yourself and others at risk for something that can be taken care of with a quick needle stick.