As long as vaccines have been around, anti-vaccine movements have also existed. Laws have been changed and established to allow those against vaccinations the freedom to refuse them. Do the risks outweigh the benefits?
“We are starting to see more people not wanting to immunize their children, or even themselves, because we don’t see the disease as much anymore, and that’s because we have been immunizing,” said Dr. Rachel Dawson, a pediatrician with Baylor Scott & White McLane Children’s Hospital in Temple and the clinic in Killeen. “So people don’t see how serious the diseases really are and they hear these myths that are around.”
Another problem, she said, are myths that spread on the internet.
“Stories get out there that aren’t really true and parents become afraid to immunize their children,” Dawson said.
Some of the “myths” Dawson mentioned are that vaccines aren’t safe because they have harmful ingredients. Dawson recommends people to visit the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s website, chop.org, for information regarding the ingredients in vaccines and how they compare to those found in nature.
“For example, (the myth) says there is too much aluminum in vaccines, but if you go to that website it will show you that the amount in a vaccine is way less than breast milk, for example.”
The website allows you to look at each ingredient and the information for it.
Another myth is that vaccines cause autism, which is stemmed from a study conducted in 1997, published by Andrew Wakefield, a British surgeon. The study appeared in the Lancet stating that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine was increasing autism in British children; however, the article was later discredited because of ethical and procedural issues.
Dawson said the claim came because there is a strong correlation to children receiving the vaccine and the timing that autism is diagnosed. According to publichealth.org, studies are showing that children exhibit signs of autism much earlier than when the vaccine is administered and some are even noticed in utero.
Chris Van Deusen, spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said: “A vaccine is a medication, and as with any medication, there are some risks of side effects. However, the risk of getting the diseases are much greater.”
Van Deusen said that people may experience some pain or swelling at the injection site. Occasionally, people could get a low fever and feel “crummy” for a day or two as the body’s immune system begins to respond to the vaccine, and people with certain allergies can have more serious reactions, as can an extremely small portion of the population, but overall, the benefits to vaccination dramatically outweigh the risks.
Dawson said it’s a good thing when your body responds to the vaccine. Dawson said another myth is that people think infants can’t handle the amount of vaccines they are given, but she said, “I remind parents that the environment that the child is in, crawling on the floor, touching their hands to their mouths, gives them huge loads of antigens into their system that they develop immune responses to on a daily basis, and its much greater than receiving vaccines.”
Parents who opt out of vaccines must file for an exemption with the Department of State Health Services, but Van Deusen said, “In Texas, parents may decline vaccination for their children for a reason of conscience.”
Megan Mendenhall of Salado and a current military spouse, said “Use your momma gut, and doctor’s advice. I wish there wasn’t so much judgement, on both sides, everyone raises and does things they feel is right for their kids.” Mendenhall does vaccinate her kids, however, it’s on a more spread out schedule than recommended. Her siblings have not been vaccinated.
“We haven’t gotten any of the diseases that vaccines prevent,” Mendenhall said.
Data from the Department of State Health Services show less than 1 percent of school-aged children have exemptions for at least one vaccine.
Dawson said children that are immunized are not at risk of contracting diseases from children that are not immunized, but they do pose a risk for those with compromised immune systems.
Davis Pruitt, a veteran of the Air Force and resident of Belton, said: “As someone with a compromised immune system, being around someone that has not been properly vaccinated can be fatal to me.”
Van Deusen said, “Vaccines are incredibly important and are one of the biggest public health breakthroughs in history.”