I’m not really one for politics (or rather politicians). Elections always seem to spur huge arguments and ruin friendships, so I try to avoid heated political discussions and all sorts of election themed media. However, I was appalled that in last night’s debate Donald Trump insinuated that vaccines cause autism. Shouldn’t the people that we’re considering electing president be educated on public health matters, including vaccines? More than that, shouldn’t everyone be educated on vaccines?
To set the record straight, vaccines do not cause autism. Over the years, there has been much confusion over this point. A study published in The Lancet in 1998 claimed that there was a link between the MMR vaccine and the development of autism. However, over fifty studies looking at over 14 million children were conducted after that original study, which concluded that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Furthermore, the original study was retracted, because the lead scientist of the original study (Andrew Wakefield) fabricated data and fudged statistics. The data presented in the original study doesn’t match the symptoms actually experienced by the twelve children in the study, and three of the twelve children were never diagnosed with autism. Why were the results altered? Because the study was sponsored by anti-vaccine groups. Long story short, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the MMR vaccine causes autism. (For more information, check out this video).
To all of the parents out there that are hesitant to get your children vaccinated, I would like to talk to you. I recognize that you’re concerned for your children and that your concern comes from a place of love. While vaccines don’t cause autism, vaccines can cause side effects. Most of these side effects are mild (low fever, sore muscles, small swelling, etc.), but some of the side effects, while very rare, may be quite serious. However, unless your children are allergic to vaccine components (most often eggs) or have an immune system disorder, they most likely will not suffer any long-term damage from vaccines.
You are right to be concerned about the health of your children. You are right to ask questions about vaccines (or any medical treatment for that matter). You are right to try to understand how vaccines work and how they will affect your children. If you have questions or concerns about vaccines, you have the right to discuss them with your physician or another qualified medical personnel. And if your physician doesn’t take your concerns seriously, find another one. You and your children deserve a physician who listens to your concerns and addresses them respectfully and factually.
If the decision to vaccinate your children didn’t affect the lives of others, your decision wouldn’t be a public health concern. But when you vaccinate your children, you are protecting more than just one person, you are protecting everyone else who can’t be vaccinated (for whatever reason). You are protecting babies who are too young for vaccines to be effective. You are protecting seniors whose immune systems have weakened with age. You are protecting people with immunodeficiencies whose immune systems are unable to protect them from disease whether they’ve been vaccinated or not. When you vaccinate your children, not only will your children not get sick from those diseases, but they will not be able to spread those diseases to others. But this protection (termed herd immunity) only works if everyone who is healthy enough to get vaccinated does get vaccinated. Please consider this if you are on the fence about whether or not to vaccinate your children.
At the end of the day, I encourage all of you to educate yourselves about vaccines and health. Ask questions. Talk to your doctors. You have a right to understand your healthcare and your children’s healthcare. And please, do not take your scientific information from Donald Trump.
For more information, check out the following:
“I study viruses and how they cause disease in humans and other animals. I also enjoy reading about space and dinosaurs. When I’m not doing science (yes, scientists do have lives outside of lab), you can find me enjoying the great outdoors, playing my clarinet, or reading an enthralling book.”