Immunization - Truth and Rumor

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Posted by Hilda

My families are a bunch of trivia heads, both the one I was born into and the one I am now a parent in. I think asking us trivia questions incessantly and providing interesting trivia continuously was a way for my father to instill deep curiosity about everything in us.
On occasion, my father will ask me the same question, perhaps forgetting that he has asked me it before: What would you name as the three most important discoveries for mankind? My answer has always consisted of the same first two things: 1) Fire and 2) The Printing Press. The third one is not always the same depending on the occasion, and while he agrees with me about the first two, my father is always unerring in the third one: 3) The generalization of the vaccination process by Louis Pasteur.

When I was little, I don't think there was even a shadow of a doubt that I was going to be vaccinated. In fact, I can't recall there being any issues with vaccination during my lifetime except within the last five to ten years. In that time, the rise in instances of autism in young children has led factions of people to believe that vaccines and vaccinations in general are a direct cause of the condition.
So, to vaccinate or not to vaccinate? That is the question.
As the mother of a nearly six month-old baby, I'm going to be honest and begin this discussion by saying that my little girl has had her prescribed shots;  at two months, three months, four months and has just had a BCG shot which is recommended before the age of one in Europe. The vaccines that she has received so far are meant to protect her from Diphtheria, Tetanus, Whooping cough, Polio, and Pneumococcal(lung) and Meningococcal(brain) strains of influenza. The BCG is a vaccine against Tuberculosis. Further shots when she'll be thirteen months old should protect her from Measles, Mumps and Rubella. So it's obvious which side of this equation I fall under, but I'll break it down and see if it makes sense to you too.
Even before the mercury rumor, which persists to this day, the first rumor blaming vaccines was started by a group of researchers who published a study in the late 90s theorizing that the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine (MMR) caused autism in a study they did of 26 children (12 with autism and 14 without). Yep, you read that right, 26 children, there's no zero missing at the end of that number.  The researcher who headed the study was very vocal about publicizing the results though the study did not prove anything. However, the said same researcher was later found to have hidden a conflict of interest involving funding from potential plaintiffs in a lawsuit against a vaccine manufacturer. Ten of the thirteen researchers who had published the original study later retracted their findings. Nevertheless, the rumor that vaccines caused autism was cemented into the psyche, and as the MMR debate was being fought, a new target was found in mercury.
The most persistent rumor in the anti-vaccination campaign has been that mercury found in a chemical known as thimerosal, which was used as a preservative in some vaccines, is the cause of higher rates of autism. However, upon doing extensive reviews of such a possibility, it was found that the quantity of mercury in thimerosal, measured in nano grams per milliliter in children after vaccination, is well below the acceptable level as defined by EPA standards. I trusted the reports I read because I was trained as an environmental engineer in college so I know about measurements like nano grams per milliliter (ηg/ml) up the wazoo as I had to study air, water, and soil pollution (did you know that if you work in the United States, the air in your workplace has to be recycled 5.4 times per hour? Yes, I'm so scarred I remember OSHA standards by heart twelve years after the fact). To be specific, the amount of thimerosal measured in children after vaccination was less than half of the acceptable amount.  Unfortunately, in this day and age of electronic communication, coming on the heels of the claims about MMR, the fuse had already been lit and spread in part by the New York Times and Rolling Stone and the thimerosal rumor grew to enormous proportions.
In my mind there are several things that are more likely the cause of autism, than just something as unlikely as a simple vaccine or set of vaccines. I apologize in advance to anyone with an autistic child who may read this but I do not pretend to be an expert, I am simply going forward with what some research, experience, and logic are telling me. Autism does not describe one particular condition, rather, it is a spectrum of disorders. This is why a condition such as asperger would be said to fall within the autism spectrum of disorders. My mother has asperger, some of the symptoms being stronger than others in her particular case. My paternal uncle, who is a mathematician, also falls within the general spectrum; though which one of the exact disorders he would qualify as having I wouldn't know. What I do know, from these two people close to me and many others mostly unrelated to me, is that many of the disorders which fall under the autism spectrum umbrella have only recently been identified and categorized as such, and that the diagnosis of many of these disorders is not always evident unless a person has a severe case of that particular category. In other words, what I've gathered from people of my parent's generation and above is that as recently as my parent's generation (the '40s and '50s) they weren't aware that there was any such disorder, they were simply considered to be relatively slow, quirky or eccentric. The octogenarian mother of a man I know who is in his early 50s didn't know that he suffered from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) until he was diagnosed a few years ago. As she recanted, she had always thought that he was simply over energetic, this being his quirk compared to her three other children. To me, this translates to the steady increase in the reports of autism as actually being a function of our recent heightened awareness of its distinct categories rather than its sudden increase as a consequence of vaccination.
Moreover, autism, in severe cases, is often diagnosed in young children as early as one year old. This is right in the middle of the standard vaccination timeline and I, as a new mother, can attest that I would consider it odd if my perfectly normal-seeming child suddenly started displaying autistic behavior shortly after being vaccinated and might want to think of that as the possible cause for her sudden change in behavior. I completely understand the urge to find a concrete cause for something like this happening to one's child as the more concrete the cause, the more possible a specific treatment and/or cure might be. However, it should be considered that the urge to blame vaccination comes partly from the fact that when children are this young, vaccination is one of the only things that we as their parents can control completely since they cannot fully communicate with us yet and we have little or no control over a number of other factors in their environment such as pollution or allergens and, for that matter, many other things which surround us daily but which we've come to accept as the natural state of the 20th and 21st century life. It's important to remember that while we can control the administration of vaccines to our young children, unless we are doctors or biochemists ourselves, we don't fully understand them either, and understanding something only partially may be worse than not at all in some cases like this.
Finally, if I haven't caused you to nod off on your keyboard by now, the third and last part of this equation is the fact that some of the diseases which our generation, and now our children's generation, are routinely vaccinated against used to kill scores of infants and adults alike. Because the population of people, however small, who are not vaccinating their children is on the rise, diseases such as measles, which was considered to have been eradicated in the United States in 2000, polio and mumps are now on the rise again, with outbreaks over the last few years. I think it's hard for my generation to comprehend diseases like polio because we were vaccinated against them. We didn't have to endure them as people of our parents' generation had to. The risk of my daughter catching one of these diseases and perhaps dying from one or more of them if she were not vaccinated, is higher and more likely than her developing autism from the composition of the vaccine; particularly since the causality between vaccination and autism is not proven. So I think in the end it must be pretty clear why I'm in the vaccination camp.
I have to note the following: All children are, of course, individuals and it is important to take family history with allergies and adverse reactions into account when deciding whether or not to vaccinate a child.

I can't remember now what other answers I've given my father when it comes to the third most important discovery for mankind, but now that I have a child who is being vaccinated, I don't think I'll ever forget that that is probably the best third answer I can come up with. Perhaps that has been the point of his asking me repeatedly over the years, to see if I would come to this realization when I had children of my own. Thanks Dad.

This post was written by Hilda

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Hilda a great article - if you could see me - i am giving you a standing ovation. i do believe in vaccinations - to very simplify my feelings on the matter. in germany there are always ongoing heated discussions. is vaccinations good for our children? or is it not better for them to become resistant (in the case of e.g measles, mumps etc.) to the virus? (!)

for there is no doubt that some of these diseases can cause long lasting damage (i won't even go into the fact that they can also be fatal) and as a mother it is my duty to protect and care for my son in the best way i can.

would you believe that in germany there are actually measles/mumps parties? !! yes it's true! you can take your child to someone's place who's child has the virus and basically infect your child with it to make him/her resistant.

in my very own opinion i think this is irresponsible and reckless and here i echo a part of your post
the urge to blame vaccination comes partly from the fact that when children are this young, vaccination is one of the only things that we as their parents can control completely since they cannot fully communicate with us - but would like to apply it in the other direction - exposing children to such extremes is simply unjustifiable. not getting them vaccinated exposes not only their children but other innocent children (who the not vaccinated children infect) to such diseases and viruses.

Meeta K. Wolff said...
September 16, 2009 at 11:19:00 AM GMT+2  

Extremely interesting and well researched. Thanks for all the info. Those autism claims in relation to vaccination are entirely new to me.
En plus, faire des photos aussi intéressantes visuellement avec un carnet de santé, ça tient de l'exploit :-)

Colloquial Cook said...
September 16, 2009 at 11:42:00 AM GMT+2  

I went thru the same thing as you when my little has to get her vaccinations. All my friends told me to get informed about what is in each vaccination and the more I read online, the more I got scared of what I'm putting in the body of my baby. In the end, I stop reading all the info and see it in a different way. I was a baby once and I had all the vaccinations that my baby is going to have. If I'm healthy and fine today, my baby should be fine too. End of story.

September 16, 2009 at 12:31:00 PM GMT+2  

Thanks for sharing this article to us! I have heard of many that made vaccines as a main cause of autism but I have doubts also of that. But one thing is for sure, vaccines will not last of a lifetime.

September 18, 2009 at 7:47:00 AM GMT+2  

agreeing with you in Texas, although I did read one theory about the possibility of yeast contributing to a rise in autism (due to increased antibiotic use in children). I don't know if it has merit, but I think it illustrates the weakness of the vaccination theory: there are so many other explanations that are at least as likely if not more so. On the other hand, there is a very real and proven risk with vaccinations going by the wayside due to unfounded panic

bingsy said...
September 19, 2009 at 7:54:00 PM GMT+2  

Great great read Hilda...and so pertinent to the times. I believe in vaccinations, and have a wonderful family doctor who is level headed & a genius!I trust him to make the best call for my kids, & he's always gone with vaccinations! We've all had ours (in better days I guess), and here we are!

Deeba PAB said...
September 20, 2009 at 10:50:00 AM GMT+2  

Great article and very thought-provoking. I am gald you added the last paragraphs: as I was reading I kept thinking to myself: How many billions of children have been saved thanks to vaccination? Medical science is a marvelous thing and every day we hope that scientists out there are discovering miracle cures for the most terrible diseases, yet we forget that we, like the scientists themselves, are only human. Nothing is exact, not even science, and we should just take the best it has to offer.

Jamie said...
September 20, 2009 at 4:25:00 PM GMT+2  

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