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The great vaccine debate

There’s no better way to stir the parenting-debate pot than to put a pro-vaccine mom in a room with a non-vaccinating mom and bring up the topic of vaccines. Moms on each side of the debate tend to feel passionately about their stance. At this point, science sides with vaccinating. Read on to find out why, to learn about “herd immunity” and to understand the lack of scientific evidence linking vaccines to autism.


“Vaccines are our best line of defense against a lot of diseases,” says Dr. Adam Ruben, author, lecturer and biologist. “We take for granted not having a lot of diseases, so when [some parents] hear of the very small risks and choose not to vaccinate, they forget what the world was like when people were getting sick from these diseases”—and dying of them.

‘Herd immunity’

Why, then, can children of parents who don’t believe in vaccinating skate though childhood with no major vaccine-preventable illnesses? The answer is simple: herd immunity. “Herd immunity is a means of protecting unvaccinated people by vaccinating everyone around them. The idea is in order to wipe out a disease, you don’t have to vaccinate 100 percent of the population, just a very large percentage,” explains Dr. Ruben.

He notes that under ideal circumstances, the proper percentage of people would be vaccinated and only those who were susceptible, such as individuals with compromised immune systems, would remained unvaccinated. The problem, however, is that some parents of children who are healthy enough to be vaccinated are choosing not to vaccinate their children. “Therefore,” Dr. Ruben says, “they’re stealing the herd immunity, the benefit of not vaccinating, from those who need it.”

eradication vs elimination

Dr. Ruben explains that a disease is eradicated when it is no longer in existence on a global level. The only human disease that has been eradicated through vaccination is smallpox. A disease is eliminated when it is no longer present in a particular place. This is why failing to vaccinate our children is so dangerous: Diseases that have been eliminated in our country — or parts of it — through vaccination can recur — and spread.

With the increase in global travel, vaccinating is all the more important. Diseases that have been mostly eliminated can spread rapidly when re-introduced. Dr. Ruben notes the case of the 11-year-old boy who returned from a trip to Britain where there had been an epidemic of mumps, and the disease spread to more than 1,500 people in the local community. In a New York Times article, Dr. Jane Zucker, the city’s assistant health commissioner for vaccines said that the outbreak would have been much worse had fewer people been vaccinated.

Vaccines aren’t all or nothing

Dr. Ruben says that we need to remember that vaccines aren’t all or nothing. People sometimes point to cases when vaccines failed as a reason not to vaccinate. However, nobody is claiming that vaccines are 100 percent effective. Sure, some people who are vaccinated will still contract a disease. However, that does not mean that it is not effective in other people – a lot of other people.

Regarding the outbreak of mumps, most people infected were vaccinated, so that means that the vaccine probably wasn’t effective for those who caught mumps. However, as Dr. Zucker noted in the Times article, “This is a well-vaccinated community. If it wasn’t … we would be seeing many, many more cases.”

Vaccines and autism

No major scientific study has found a link between autism and vaccines. People who assert there is a connection rely on anecdotal evidence. Dr. Ruben notes that the only study that ever found a link was subsequently retracted by the journal that published it, The Lancet. The anti-vaccine movement has a popular and loud voice, echoed by celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, and nobody can deny the heartache and need for answers that parents with children who have been diagnosed with autism go through. However, in the complete absence of any link ?– despite attempts to show one – not vaccinating our children is not the answer.

Adverse reactions from vaccines

Just as vaccines are not 100 percent effective, it is a fact that vaccinated individuals can also experience adverse reactions. The Centers for Disease Control notes that “vaccination can cause both minor and, rarely, serious side effects.” However, “vaccination is safer than accepting the risks for the diseases these vaccines prevent.”

That’s the bottom line. My generation of moms is very fortunate to live in a world where we don’t have to think about our children becoming disabled by polio or dying of measles, but we should be mindful of the reason: vaccines.

Read more about vaccines:

I’m not a doctor and I’m not dispensing medical advice. This is simply my opinion, as a parent, about vaccinating my kids an opinion that I formed as a result of a lot of research. How do you feel about vaccinating your children? Weigh in below in the comments section and share your thoughts.

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