Understanding the Vaccination Debate

Vaccination is the introduction of an antigen, also known as a vaccine, into the body to stimulate the immune system to adapt immunity to a specific pathogen. It is the most reliable way to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Vaccination has been credited with the eradication of smallpox. It has also severely restricted the spread of tetanus, polio, and measles.


Vaccinations, a term used interchangeably with immunizations, were first introduced in 1796 to treat smallpox. At the time, smallpox killed 20 to 60 percent of all infected adults and 80 percent of infected children. Physicians found that by purposely injecting patients with other infections, they could inoculate them. Thanks to this, smallpox was finally eradicated in 1979.

Why Wouldn’t One Want to Vaccinate His Children?

Since vaccines were first introduced, there has been controversy over their use. People have opposed vaccinations for the following reasons:

  • Vaccines are ineffective.
  • Requiring vaccinations violates civil rights.
  • They may be dangerous.
  • Certain religions oppose medical interference.
  • Personal hygiene should be used instead.

In order for a vaccine to be made available to the public, it must pass rigorous testing. The results from the experiments on the vaccines must be replicated. If the vaccine is not shown to be effective, then it does not go on the market. It should be noted that vaccines are not always 100% effective for everyone. One can receive a vaccine and still contract the disease, though these instances are rare.

Many schools require parents provide proof that their children have been vaccinated. This is done to help avoid the spread of diseases. Some see this as the government telling them how to raise their children. But, as mentioned above, vaccines are only produced after rigorous testing and are aimed at eradicating diseases. These policies help the public at large by helping to eradicate diseases.

Certain Christian sects oppose vaccination because it is said to go against God’s will. For example, if it is God’s will that one should die from smallpox, then physicians should not interfere with vaccinations. This is a fairly uncommon argument.

Though personal hygiene is very important for stopping the spread of infectious viruses and diseases, it is not as effective as also being vaccinated. One should wash his hands and bathe regularly, but he should also get vaccinated.

The MMR-Autism Link

One of the most famous anti-vaccination studies to come out in recent times was a 1998 paper in the medical journal The Lancet. In the article, Andrew Wakefield provided data showing the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine led to autism spectrum disorders in twelve children soon after they received the vaccine.

This spawned outrage and lawsuits from parents of children who had autism and received the MMR vaccine. An anti-vaccination movement also followed. In 2004, ten of the twelve co-authors of Wakefield’s study retracted the paper. The Sunday Times in 2009 reported that Wakefield fudged the data to show the MMR-autism link. And, in 2010, The Lancet formally retracted the 1998 study.

Despite the retractions, there are parents who continue to insist the MMR vaccine caused their child to be autistic. One of the most vocal adversaries of the vaccine is former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy. This continued anti-vaccination movement has led to a decrease in parents vaccinating their children. Still, there is no evidence that there is a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.


Based on the research on vaccinations, in general, they are relatively harmless and can be of great help to the public and the individual. Critics of vaccines base their opinions on unscientific arguments. The data shows that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh any risks.

With this in mind, it is important for parents to consult with their child’s pediatrician to make sure they are getting all of the recommended vaccines. Also, parents should make sure their child is not part of an “at risk” group that may need to avoid certain vaccines.


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