JUNE 29 ― Christopher Columbus introduced among others smallpox, measles, whooping cough, chicken pox, typhus to the Americas in 1492.
That exposure, according to the Journal of Economic Perspectives published in 2010, caused millions of deaths among the natives who had no natural resistance to the diseases over the next 150 years.
Medical advancement has saved millions since then. On the global scale, measles vaccine for instance has reduced the annual death toll from the disease from 600,000 in 2000 to 122,000 in 2012. Polio too has fallen by more than 99 per cent, from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to 416 reported cases in 2013.
Diphtheria, a preventable life-threatening disease, was only read and heard of in textbooks until very recently.
Those who say vaccines don’t work need to take a long hard look at these facts and numbers.
Vaccines work. So let’s debunk some of the common myths about vaccines out there.
Myth 1: Vaccines cause autism.
Andrew Wakefield, a British surgeon published a study suggesting an increase risk of autism with the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine in 1997 via The Lancet medical journal.
But it was discredited leading to not only its retraction from the journal, but this also cost Andrew Wakefield his medical licence due to serious procedural errors, undisclosed financial conflicts of interest and ethical violations.
The hypothesis was nevertheless taken seriously resulting in follow-up studies but none found a link between the vaccine and autism.
Many studies have been conducted on autism since then and actually identified symptoms of autism in children well before they receive the MMR vaccine. An even more recent research provides evidence that autism develops in utero, well before a baby is born or receives vaccinations.
None, however, could relate it back to the MMR vaccines.
Myth 2: Natural immunity is better than vaccine-acquired immunity.
In some cases, natural immunity — meaning actually catching a disease and getting sick ―results in stronger immunity to the disease than a vaccination.
However, the dangers of this approach far outweigh the relative benefits. Measles for example, if contracted “naturally”, will give you a 1 in 500 chance of death from your symptoms. Remember those who are already ill from chronic diseases. The chances of death is even higher for them.
In contrast, the number of people who have had severe allergic reactions from an MMR vaccine is less than one in one million.
Myth 3: Vaccines contain unsafe toxins.
Here, we are talking about formaldehyde, mercury or aluminum. Do you know that our body produces formaldehyde as part of normal physiological function? And according to the FDA and the CDC, formaldehyde is present in higher concentration within us.
Not to mention there is no scientific evidence that the low levels of mercury or aluminum in vaccines can be harmful? Have you ever asked yourself how much mercury there is in a tuna?
Sure, these chemicals are toxic to the human body in high amounts, but only trace amounts of these chemicals are used in the approved vaccines.
The public should read up on the time-honoured pharmacological principle of, “It is the dose that makes the poison.”
Because even natural things can kill you at the right dose. Water, for instance, can kill you when consumed in huge quantities at one time.
Myth 4: Vaccines aren’t worth the risk.
Despite parental concerns, children have been successfully vaccinated for decades. In fact, there has never been a single credible study linking vaccines to long-term health conditions.
As for immediate danger from vaccines in the form of allergic reactions or severe side effects, the incidence of death are so rare they can’t even be calculated.
The overall incidence rate of severe allergic reaction to vaccines is usually placed around one case for every one or two million injections.
Myth 5: Vaccines can infect my child with the disease it’s trying to prevent.
Vaccines can cause mild symptoms resembling those of the disease they are protecting against. They are not infections but the immune response’s manifestation to the vaccine.
Myth 6: We don’t need to vaccinate because infection rates are already so low in Malaysia.
Many don’t realise that vaccination is not about treatment. It’s about prevention.
Malaysian babies are without polio, measles and whooping cough today thanks to a high vaccination rate among Malaysians. These immune Malaysians confer “protection” to those who are not vaccinated by breaking the chain of infection, and preventing the nasty viruses from reaching them.
It’s called Herd Immunity.
Herd Immunity is important because not all can be vaccinated. A number of the population – i.e infants, pregnant women, elderly, and those with weakened immune systems can’t receive vaccines.
So it is up to those who can be vaccinated to shield them from these life-threatening viruses. A collective responsibility with a huge public health impact to the nation and community especially when the country receives so many foreign workers with unknown immunisation histories and records.
Myth 7: Everything that happens right after vaccination is called AEFI (Adverse Effect From Immunisation).
Diagnosing AEFI is not easy and can only be done by doctors after a proper and thorough investigation. We have a systematic and strict protocol when determining whether or not a reaction is from the vaccine.
Imagine a car accident. Will you always blame the car in an accident or will you also consider other factors like the driver, road condition, weather? Now, picture the car as a vaccine and AEFI as an accident.
What do you think?
A national obligation
We don't vaccinate just to protect our children. We also vaccinate to protect our future generation so they can continue enjoying the same health benefits that we have.
The pain, and agony from diphtheria, measles and polios are real. You wouldn’t want to wish it on your enemies. Think for a moment how you’d feel when it affects your child or your loved ones? We’ve seen children deprived of a normal childhood and parents robbed of their young through accidents and mishaps.
But to lose someone over something that is preventable, and putting everyone else’s life in danger should be a crime. Those who promote against vaccination, including the media, should be prosecuted for atrocities against the public and nation. If not humanity.
Whether to vaccinate or not should not be made a choice.
Not when one’s decision to not vaccinate might end the life and family of another.
Vaccinate your family members. Don’t let this holiday season be your last. On that note, Selamat Hari Raya to all readers. Maaf Zahir dan Batin.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.