Autism and Vaccines
For a while now, members of our society have been questioning the reliability of vaccinations. It began in the 1930’s, when a mercury compound called thimerosal was used in vaccines as a preservative to keep molds and bacteria from growing. The mercury and the other heavy metals that are in the vaccines can cause brain damage. Children are more likely to suffer damage because their brain are still in the process of developing. While it was never a proven fact, it made intuitive sense that thimerosal was responsible for autism because it affects the brain.
To this day, people still believe that vaccines are the cause of autism. Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder, is consistent with a group of developmental disabilities. Children diagnosed with Autism have trouble with learning and language. ASD is a spectrum, which means that the symptoms can vary. There are children at the very beginning of the spectrum, which are high functioning and may just have problems socializing. Then there are children at the other end of the spectrum. Kids on the higher end of the spectrum tend to be self-destructive and violent. The causes of autism aren’t known and that contributes a lot to the controversy. It is known that the cause of autism can either be influenced by genetics or environmental factors. Knowing that it can be caused by environmental factors is where people begin to believe that vaccines are the cause. However, since the removal of thimerosal, the amount of children diagnosed with autism has skyrocketed.
Now, a lot of people also believe that vaccines weaken the immune system. Vaccines build up the body’s immune system. However, the ‘vaccine hypothesis’ states that proteins in the vaccines damage the immune system. Babies get injected with almost, at least, twenty-eight vaccines before they reach six months. Vaccine critics claim that the vaccines are overwhelming the child’s immune system and this may result in whatever brain changes may be responsible for autism. The problem with this, is that there is no more evidence to support this than there is to support the number of vaccines given to infants has increased. People seem to believe that the number of vaccines means the number of antigens children are exposed to has increased. It, in fact, has actually decreased. For example, let’s take the original smallpox vaccine. The original vaccine contained 200 different antigens. That’s only in one. Today, all 15 vaccines together contain about 150 antigens. So, if anything, shouldn’t the number of children diagnosed with autism have decreased?
Vaccines Save Lives
Herd immunity serves as a barrier to protect a population from the ravages of infectious diseases. The higher the percentage of people inoculated, the stronger the barrier. When the percentage starts to decline, the barrier grows weaker and porous. Herd immunity is essential to the well-being of this country. The CDC estimates that vaccinations help save 33,000 lives in a single year, prevents fourteen million infections, and saves $10 billion in medical costs. Parents who believe that vaccines are likely to cause harm to their children are responsible for the decline in inoculation rate during the recent years. Parents who decide not to vaccinate their children must depend on herd immunity for their child’s protection. However, because more people are starting to vaccinate their children less, it is beginning to fail.
Here’s a case:
Alice Park reported in TIME the case of Kelly Lacek. She decided to stop vaccinating her two-month-old son Matthew, when her chiropractor expressed doubts about the safety of thimerosal vaccines. When Matthew turned three, Lacek returned home to find him suffering from a high fever and gasping for air. Matthew was infected with Haemophlius-b, which is a bacterium that produces a fever and swelling of the tissues of the throat and as a result, breathing is difficult. This was something that could have been prevented if we would have been vaccinated.
(Adapted from Intervention and Reflection: Basic Issues in Bioethics by Robert Munson).