The Arguments of Anti-Vaxxers
Updated: Jul 17
In recent years, the anti-vaxx movement has gained momentum. Their mission is simple: make the conscious decision to not vaccinate children. These anti-vaxxers believe that the dangers of vaccines outweigh the benefits of vaccinating their children.
They argue that severe allergic reactions can occur upon vaccination. However, the majority of children are not allergic to vaccine ingredients. Furthermore, children who are allergic may be offered alternative methods, such as a nasal spray rather than an injected vaccine, to receive treatment. Furthermore, there are concerns regarding how safe the individual ingredients in a vaccine are, specifically the presence of ethylmercury, formaldehyde and aluminum. In large quantities, these three compounds are harmful to the human body; however, there is scientific evidence and long-standing precedence that does not link the dosage of these materials in vaccines to be harmful to human health. The body can easily break down ethylmercury, making it essentially harmless. In fact, there is a much higher amount of naturally occurring formaldehyde and naturally occurring aluminum in the human body than there is in a vaccine.
Some common concerns that anti-vaxxers cite are that vaccines may cause autism and that vaccinating children will overload their immune system. In regard to the misconception that vaccines may cause autism, multiple studies, including "Vaccines are not associated with autism: An evidence-based meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies" and "An Assessment of Thimerosal Use in Childhood Vaccines," show that there is no causality between vaccines and autism. And while it is true that vaccinated children may show mild symptoms for a few days after being vaccinated, this is not a sign that their immune systems are being overloaded. According to Public Health, this thought is another misconception about vaccines as there is no scientific evidence that vaccines will overload a child's immune system.
On the other hand, there is valid concern as to the efficacy and safety of new, untested vaccines. Looking at the current pandemic, there are currently three vaccines for COVID-19 that are in the final trial stages of testing. These vaccines have undergone an expedited testing process compared to other vaccines. This process is only possible due to the relaxation of scientific guidelines and standards. These guidelines are in place for a reason and rushing through it may cause vaccines to be at best only moderately effective and at worst, not effective at all, which, coupled with the false hope that a faulty vaccine will give of total immunity, may actually cause a spike in coronavirus cases.
The last time we were in a similar situation was during the polio epidemic in the United States. More than a million children were inoculated with an unproven vaccine, taking a mammoth risk if the vaccine failed. Thankfully, the vaccine proved effective then, but there is no guarantee that we will be as lucky this time around with an unproven COVID-19 vaccine. We actually were not as lucky when an unproven HPV vaccine was introduced to the European Region. The vaccine was designed to prevent young people from contracting the virus, which has strains that can cause cervical cancer. Unlike the polio vaccine, this untested HPV vaccine has been linked to primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), a condition which can cause reduced fertility and premature menopause in women. There's no telling how effective or safe an unproven COVID-19 vaccine will be, and, as a result, it is wise for the vaccines to go through the standard trial procedure rather than the accelerated route it is currently on.
Some believe that the decrease in the spread of infectious disease is due to an improvement in hygiene. While improved hygiene may have played a part in decreasing overall infection rates, vaccines were the largest contributers to the decrease. As per the graph below, it can be seen that immediately after a vaccine is introduced — marked by the vertical dotted line — there is a decrease in the overall number of cases for that disease. Therefore, it can be concluded that vaccines were the main agent in curbing the spread of infectious diseases.
Vaccines actually imitate an infection, yet they are not actual infections but rather prompt the immune system to create antibodies that will fight the virus should a child come into contact with the virus in the future. Furthermore, there is proof that vaccines do work. While no vaccine can ever be 100% effective, many come extremely close as proven through multiple studies. Even looking at history, there is a strong correlation between the discovery and delivery of a vaccine and a subsequent decline in cases of the infection. For example, before the discovery of the measles vaccine (MMRV), about 3-4 million people were contracting measles in the United States alone with 400 to 500 deaths per year and approximately 48,000 hospitalizations per year. In 1963, the measles vaccination program started and its effectiveness was apparent. In 2000, measles was declared eradicated in the United States due to mandated MMRV vaccinations in young children. In less developed countries without access to the MMRV vaccine, however, measles is still rampant in these areas and poses a deadly threat. All in all, vaccines have proven to be not only beneficial but necessary to maintaining public health.
Written by: Amber Widjaja