As an ode to World Immunization Week, Purses for Nurses would like to look at the importance of vaccinations and to address the concerns that are circulating around vaccinations. But before looking at their importance, we must first come to an understanding of what vaccines are. Any bacterium or virus that causes an illness produces antigens and these antigens are the key to vaccines (Jubinville, 2015). Antigens of the virus or bacterium are placed into these vaccines and they are either injected, orally ingested, or inhaled through the nose to expose the human immune system to these viral/bacterial antigens to induce an immune response. Once this occurs, the body can produce antibodies that are specific to the antigens. The immune system will then put to memory the ability to produce these types of antibodies so when the full-blown virus or bacterium infects the body, it will be ready to fight it off.
Autism And Vaccinations
Up until right about the end of the 20th century, public opinion over vaccinations was overwhelmingly positive; vaccinations were thought to be the gateway to ending infectious diseases. Fast forward to the late 1900s and you have laymen trying to debunk the efficacy of vaccines and screaming from rooftops that the vaccinations pose a greater health risk to an individual than the actual disease they are trying to be protected from. But why did conventional wisdom shift so dramatically?
One cannot begin to speak about the anti-vaccine movement without mentioning the name Andrew Wakefield so let us address the elephant in the room. In 1998, Wakefield published a publication that implied that vaccines, particularly the MMR vaccine, increased the risk of autism in children (Wakefield, et al. 1998). There were many things quintessentially wrong with Wakefield’s study. First and foremost, it was a study composed of only twelve participants, and among those twelve, only nine showed symptoms of autism. What is worse is the fact that if you were to go to the (now retracted) paper and observe the data yourself, the data classifies one child as “autism?”. Yes, that is “autism” with a question mark. Other than the fact that Wakefield tried to pass data with such a small sample size as showing something that is statistically significant, he also was in an obvious conflict of interest which should have raised some red flags. Wakefield had filed a patent for a vaccine that would compete with the MMR vaccine so he had a huge stake in trying to prove the inefficacy of the MMR vaccine (Barrett, 2010). As a result of not only the scientific invalidity of Wakefield’s paper but also because of his obvious conflict of interest, the paper has been retracted and his outlandish claims over the association between autism and vaccinations have been proven incorrect. But the damage has been done. How much damage did Wakefield really do? It is estimated that after his paper had been published and after media outlets got a hold of it, immunization rates dropped more than 10% in the UK alone. And the unfortunate part about all this? Even though the man behind it all has had his medical license stripped away and his paper retracted, just the mere thought of the association between autism and vaccinations is out there and it is in the back of the minds of millions of people, especially parents. The damage has not only been done but it appears it has been done seemingly irreversibly.
What Would No Vaccines Look Like?
Let us imagine for a second a paradigm in which we all disregarded science and facts and instead gave into the ludicrous claims that vaccines are extremely detrimental to our health. What would the world without immunization look like? Well, it goes without saying that smallpox would not be eradicated and polio would not be so close to being so itself. But numbers and statistics definitely speak better than words. Without the vaccine, smallpox would still be rampant as it was throughout history into the 1900s. Just in the 20th century alone, 300 million people died around the world. We can use this as a close estimate of the mortality rate in the 21st century. And without the smallpox vaccine, we would still have a disease that is incredibly virulent and has a mortality rate of over 33% (Flight, 2011). Although polio was not nearly as virulent or deadly as smallpox, without the polio vaccine, we would still see many of our acquaintances suffering from its clutches and at its worst, suffering from the isolation and treachery that is the iron lung.
Controversies, Controversies, and More Controversies
Because of the concerns over the efficacies of vaccines, there are many controversies that surround vaccinations. One of the biggest controversies is whether the state can have jurisdiction over parents when deciding to vaccinate a child. Children themselves do not have the wherewithal to decide themselves whether they want a vaccination or not. So when parents decide that they either do not believe in vaccines or they think that vaccines will kill their child, they decline the option of getting their child vaccinated. The parents may believe that the child is their child, therefore, can do whatever they would like to do with them, however, the state may intervene when the parents’ decision obviously puts another life at risk, the child’s. Another huge subset of a controversy within this controversy is the idea that by not “believing” in vaccines for whatever reason, they are not only putting their life in danger but the life of their children as well as the greater population. This controversial argument stems from the idea of herd immunity. Herd immunity is the idea that a certain percentage of the population needs to be vaccinated to prevent a possible epidemic from breaking out. Each disease has its own unique percentage/herd immunity. By not vaccinating, you are slowly progressing towards not attaining herd immunity and possibly putting those around you at risk. Yet another argument within these sets of arguments is the argument that some individuals do not have the luxury of even getting vaccinated because of conditions that may cause them to be immunocompromised and prevent them from even getting an attenuated/killed form of a virus/bacterium. Therefore, by not vaccinating one’s self, you are especially putting these immunocompromised individuals at a huge risk of contracting a disease that may be fatal to them but nothing more than an inconvenience for you like the yearly flu.
One of the biggest problems that almost cannot be addressed is the fact that some people are just not exposed to the diseases anymore. As recently as the mid 1900s, people feared diseases because they were able to see the symptoms that manifested as a result. People saw polio and what it did to children; the iron lungs that children would be forced to stay in for the rest of their lives just to survive (Oshinsky, 2005). People saw the measles as a rite of childhood and saw people catching it left and right and dying (Parker, 2015). But now that these are very minimal concerns of developed countries, specifically the US, people have just forgotten what these diseases and their deleterious effects on humans. They do not remember how we even got to a point of ignorance, how we now have the luxury of not knowing these diseases first hand. They do not realize that vaccines are exactly how we got to a point where diseases are not rampant throughout society.
The anti-vaccination movement has become nothing short of a witch hunt. Even among all the immense success and impressive track record that vaccines have, some individuals just cannot accept the fact that vaccines are just not the cause of all their health problems. To be able to look at the eradication of smallpox, the close extinction of polio and all the lives that have been saved in between and yet still believe vaccines are what causes autism and even death is nothing short of ignorant and childish.
However, all is not lost. We are far from the point of no return. What is especially important in this controversy over immunizations is awareness. People must be properly informed and properly educated in the immense benefits of vaccinations. How can this be done? Fortunately, the proceeds that come from selling refurbished bags allows Purses for Nurses to send trained professionals all throughout the globe to propagate informed, trustworthy information about the benefits of vaccines and debunk outlandish, incomplete rumors. Making people aware of the true benefits of vaccinating not only one’s self but their kids can begin a healthy trend of looking at vaccines for what they are, medical marvels, rather than death traps. Not only can the proceeds go to helping trained professionals educate those who lack education around the world, but it can go to helping them go and vaccinate individuals in not only rural but also impoverished nations. It is very well possible that vaccines can just be lacking in certain parts of the world and they do not have the luxury of even deciding whether they want the vaccine, they just cannot get it. In areas such as these, trained professionals can be sent to help administer vaccinations so that more and more individuals can be safe from disease. With donations and purchases of refurbished purses from the Purses for Nurses team, one can sufficiently help P4N expedite the process of increasing vaccine awareness and increasing the immunization of people all around the world.