To pinch or not to pinch? A sceptical analysis of the vaccination debate.

Vaccination was always a no-brainer for my mother; whenever I was due a vaccine I would be taken to the doctors, pinched, and then treated to a bowl of ice cream. It was the standard procedure, and I always thought everyone else followed the same path…

Recently as I was browsing the news I came across a story involving a woman going to Disneyland, and the subsequent media outrage that followed it. I thought nothing of it, until I found out that she had contracted measles and was unvaccinated, posing a severe health and safety risk to people around her, who unfortunately happened to be children. It is from there that the vaccination became apparent to me, and I began to question it: if vaccines were so dangerous, surely we would have stopped using them by now?

Vaccines have been around for an extremely long time, with the first vaccine being officially developed in 1756 to treat a sweeping smallpox epidemic. Nowadays, thanks to the development and standardization of vaccines, the WHO has officially declared that human beings are now smallpox free, and that the disease has completely disappeared. If we were to consider the role of vaccines in the eradication of smallpox, it seems unlikely that the advantages and successes of vaccines can be downplayed that easily. Another important example is the successful fight against polio, which has witnessed an almost 100% decrease in diagnosed cases in the US, where currently the staunchest anti-vaccine critics are encouraging parents to avoid vaccinating their children.

Present day anti-vaccine arguments are largely based on the problematic side effects that may occur when being subjected to routine vaccinations. One of the most notorious cases of anti-vaccination campaigning was that against the MMR vaccine that was seemingly linked to the development of autism. Whilst this claim has been constantly refuted and deemed inconclusive, (in fact, it was retracted from the American Institute of Medicine and the CDC in 2004 and 2007 respectively) it remains largely the case that not vaccinating your children is actually more dangerous than allowing for natural immunity to take it’s cause.

As human beings, we are born with natural immunity and protection from disease, but the problem with this natural immunity is that it is largely developed from experience. In other words, for you to be immune to a certain disease, you have to catch it and experience its symptoms in order to (hopefully) overcome it. The introduction of vaccines allow for artificial immunity to boost your immune system, whilst avoiding the risk of developing symptoms, essentially giving your antibodies a hand with overcoming potentially fatal diseases. Whilst your vaccine-primed immune system allows you to overcome the symptoms without posing a threat to those around you, similarly, if those around you also happen to be vaccinated, they are considerably less likely to pass the disease on to you, should they catch it.

The importance of vaccinations as a preventative health measure thus cannot be ignored. The sheer discrepancy between the numerous advantages, when put against the few, and almost inconclusive disadvantages seriously discredit many modern anti-vaccination campaigns. Think of it this way: if you had the possibility to protect yourself from a potentially fatal and contagious disease by putting yourself at minimal risk from developing a side effect, wouldn’t you do it? And, more importantly, wouldn’t you expect everyone else to do it as well?

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