Thursday, May 23Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Vaccination Fears Go Viral

People are divided on the role of vaccinations. Most see them as a godsend, the product of the miracles of modern science, and the only way to prevent their children from getting diseases like Diphtheria, Polio, Smallpox, Measles and Whooping Cough. There are, however, a growing faction of people that are against inoculating children with vaccines as they believe that there are doubts over the antigens contained within vaccines and the effects they may have on their children and families. In addition, there are those who are in favour of vaccines but want them to be given in smaller doses over a longer period of time.

Vaccination is, simply put, the process of injecting a sample of a weakened or killed virus into a person in order to provoke an immune system response into producing antibodies and using their memory cells of the antibodies to fight the disease if the person contracts it. Common vaccines that children in the UK, and elsewhere around the world, receive include the Polio vaccine, the Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus (DPT) vaccine and Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Many parents have found it difficult to watch their children be injected with viral antigens in order to prevent some abstract future disease and are unsure of who to trust on the matter. In the US, 10% of parents delay or skip shots while 1% do not vaccinate at all.

While it is true that children receive more vaccines than before, the antigens within the vaccines themselves have decreased and is a small amount compared to the number of antigens that people are exposed to on a day-to-day basis.

Vaccination bases its success on ‘herd immunity’, the theory that the more people who are vaccinated, the harder it is for a disease to spread. And thus, by vaccinating your child, you are working together with others to defeat the disease. By not vaccinating your child at all, you are putting other children at risk and by spreading out vaccinations, you are putting children “at risk of developing diseases during the time that the shots are delayed”, as stated by the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC).

By not vaccinating your child at all, you are putting other children at risk

While there has been a long history of vaccination fears, it was palpable in the late 1990s, when Andrew Wakefield, a discredited former doctor from the UK, published a paper claiming that the MMR vaccine caused autism in children. This led to widespread fear and panic among parents and stoked the flames of the anti-vaccination movement and brought it to what it is today. The paper has since been disproved and discredited, with several peer-reviewed papers following it finding no correlation whatsoever between autism and vaccines. However, this scientific proof is often not enough to sway the anti-vaccination believers, who find confirmation of their existing hypotheses through the growing amount of “anecdotal evidence” from people who believe that vaccines have caused autism.

Anti-vaccinators are helped along when prominent figures and celebrities give credence to their beliefs and agree with them, again not citing any scientific evidence in their favour. Some may recognise actress Alicia Silverstone, from the cult classic Clueless, who received information from “parents claiming their child was ‘never the same’ after receiving a vaccine” in 2014, similar to the claims that rose following Wakefield’s paper. While on the campaign trail in 2016, President Donald Trump cited an increase in cases of autism and then spoke about the increase in vaccines given to children, implying an unfounded link between the two and giving fervour to the cause.

There is growing concern among medical professionals and the World Health Organisation (WHO) that the increase in children that are not immunised may cause widespread outbreaks of dangerous diseases. When the MMR vaccine was introduced in Britain in 1988, Measles was nearly eradicated by 1998. However, a dip in administering the vaccine in the early 2000s led to measles outbreaks across the UK in both 2012 and 2013 as well as 17 confirmed cases between January and March of this year.

These vaccination fears have spread well into recent years, with 40,000 people once signing a petition to ban mandatory vaccines in the UK. Furthermore, according to Public Health England, an estimated 24,000 children in England each year are at risk of contracting Measles, Mumps, and Rubella because they haven’t been given the MMR vaccine.

As reported by Gates Foundation, over 2.5 million lives are saved each year due to vaccinations and the WHO states that the figure could rise by 1.5 million if more children and adults were vaccinated than they are currently.

With the major decrease in worldwide health epidemics, it is often easy to forget the benefits of vaccines and how they will help us all in immunisation against deadly diseases. And while these benefits are forgotten, fear sets in among shared images of babies getting attacked with giant needles. But, is this fear worth the number of lives we save due to immunisation? You tell me.