A recent outbreak of measles thought to originate in Disneyland has somehow granted people permission to unleash a slew of vitriol on social media against people who choose not to vaccinate (so-called anti-vaxxers). (The note at the end of the linked article is important to read: “This story was amended on Monday 19 January to clarify that California health department officials say the unvaccinated woman thought to have spread the disease after a visit to a Disney park in December is not the origin of the outbreak.”)
Who are anti-vaxxers? If you believe the various blogs and political cartoons, anti-vaxxers are crunchy granola (read: “dirty hippie”), white, suburban parents who think vaccines cause autism.
Do you know what that is called? It’s called a stereotype.
People who choose not to vaccinate choose to do so for a variety of reasons. Yes, some individuals claim vaccines cause autism (which the CDC and others claim is false). (The Brtitish Journal BMJ which published the editorial about the vaccine-autism study also had to add this correction: “The BMJ should have declared competing interests in relation to this editorial by Fiona Godlee and colleagues…The BMJ Group receives advertising and sponsorship revenue from vaccine manufacturers, and specifically from Merck and GSK, which both manufacture MMR vaccines.”) Yes, some people are concerned about a cover-up by the CDC regarding the MMR vaccine, which Forbes magazine debunks here. (Interesting to note Dr. Verstraeten’s quote: “Because the findings of the first phase were not replicated in the second phase, the perception of the study changed from a positive to a neutral study. Surprisingly, however, the study is being interpreted now as negative by many, including the antivaccine lobbyists. The article does not state that we found evidence against an association, as a negative study would. It does state, on the contrary, that additional study is recommended, which is the conclusion to which a neutral study must come.”) However, those aren’t the only reasons that people choose not to vaccinate.
One related reason some people choose not to vaccinate is a lack of trust in the medical community. For example, Merck is being sued for fraud over its MMR vaccine. There is concern over a lack of independent testing of vaccinations. The Public Health Agency of Canada says there is independent testing. The CDC page on the matter is a little confusing. It says:
“Clinical development is a three-phase process. During Phase I, small groups of people receive the trial vaccine. In Phase II, the clinical study is expanded and vaccine is given to people who have characteristics (such as age and physical health) similar to those for whom the new vaccine is intended. In Phase III, the vaccine is given to thousands of people and tested for efficacy and safety.”
Are the “thousands of people” all the people who take the vaccine once it’s approved, or is it an actual clinical study involving thousands of people?(According to WHO, vaccines do undergo independent testing; however, I don’t know if this just applies to vaccines sent overseas.) When Gardisil came out, I was concerned. It seemed the vaccine was rushed out to the public, and the impression I got was that there were no long-term studies done on this vaccine. It seems that long-term studies are ongoing. Are long-term studies generally done after a vaccine is approved? Does that make sense? I suppose it does in a society that is in such a rush with regards to, well, everything. Further to the point of trust, when trust is broken, it can be difficult to earn it back.
Another reason for not vaccinating is a parent may have had a child vaccinated, only to have that child have a severe allergic reaction. (It isn’t common, but it does happen.)
Another reason is ethics. When we went to Public Health to get my child’s vaccines, we were given information sheets. One of the sheets mentioned there being gelatin in at least one of the vaccines. This raises an ethical question. I’m vegan. I have since learned that vaccines contain albumin (egg whites/egg proteins), as well. Many vegans realize it is impossible to be strictly, purely vegan in our current world. We are forced to make hard ethical choices, weighing benefit vs. risk, weighing benefit vs. suffering. I have also seen it mentioned a couple times that vaccines contain aborted fetal cells. According to Immunize Canada, while aborted fetal cells from “legal abortions from the 1960s” are used to grow the viruses in the early stages of the vaccines, “[d]uring purification of the vaccine all cells are removed.” For some people, this use of aborted fetal cells is also an ethical dilemma.
Initially, I was thinking that if you want more people to vaccinate you need to give them adequate information. This article argues to the contrary. After watching The Cove (a good, terrible, difficult movie to watch; go watch it!) and learning that vaccines have/had mercury in them, I was seriously concerned. Apparently, currently only multi-dose inactivated influenza vaccines still contain thimerasol (and “trace amounts” in other vaccines). What would ease my mind would be a list of ingredients for each vaccine, and information about what each ingredient does in the vaccine (for example: formaldehyde – “[t]o kill viruses or inactivate toxins during the manufacturing process”). It’s like the Tom’s of Maine toothpaste label. Despite the fact that that company was bought by Colgate-Palmolive (which has a voluntary moratorium on animal testing but goes on to say in this report that it limits animal testing) in 2006, I do like that they provide a list of ingredients, the source of said ingredients, and what they do in the product. I would like to see a list like that for vaccines. It won’t change the views of every person who chooses not to vaccinate; what’s in the vaccines is not the sole reason people are against them. For people like me, however, it adds to our ability to make an informed choice, whatever that choice will be.