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Vaccinations: Let’s get things straight. With facts! And science!

Are you frustrated by the anti-vax debate? Don’t know how to reply to devotees of Dr Google? It’s no surprise. Despite the connection between autism and vaccines being widely acknowledged as one big media beat-up, the argument is still heated, with many people still opposing vaccinations. Also known as “anti-vaxxers” these individuals are putting their own children and the community at risk of serious diseases.

For the sake of our kids, make sure you’re armed with the facts so you can (politely, of course) reply to the ill-informed comments of anti-vaxxers. Ready? Let’s go!

ANTI-VAXXERS: “Vaccines cause autism.”

YOU: “No. They don’t.”

So how did this rumour gain so much heat? The Internet. Back in 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a scientific article which was believed to show a connection between the mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccine with certain medical conditions, most alarmingly autism. The truth, however, is that the study didn’t say anything like this. It was a complete misinterpretation of the article. Wakefield simply talked about the article in a press conference, and the press conference received a massive amount of media attention. The media being the media, thrust out powerful headlines like: We Are Endangering Our Kids! Consequently, vaccination rates plummeted and, you guessed it, rates of preventable infectious diseases shot up. Parents everywhere were frightened that these tiny particles of dead bacteria and viruses would somehow give their child autism. Not so.

Sadly, it gets even worse. A reporter by the name of Brian Dear found evidence that Wakefield had been paid by lawyers keen to find evidence against vaccine manufacturers. Interesting, no?

Despite the study being retracted and Andrew Wakefield’s license being revoked, the damage was done. Since then it’s taken some time to recover. What’s even more infuriating is that the debate has since expanded. When many anti-vaxxers finally acknowledged that there is no link to autism, in defence, they turn to other reasons not to vaccinate their children. Read on.

ANTI-VAXXERS: “It contains Thimerasol!”

YOU: “Thimerasol isn’t a component in vaccines these days. But that’s irrelevant because Thimerasol didn’t cause problems anyway.”

Thimerasol is sometimes used as a preservative in vaccines. There is no evidence linking it to autism, despite overzealous anti-vaxxers being convinced that it’s a causative factor. But again, it is no longer used in routine childhood vaccines, so why worry about it?

ANTI-VAXXERS: “Vaccines contain formaldehyde!”

YOU: “Yes, that’s right. So do fruit and nuts.”

To quote The Original Skeptical Raptor, who holds an undergraduate degree in Biology from the top US research University and a graduate degree in Biochemistry/Endocrinology:

“The normal blood level of formaldehyde is 2.74 +/- 0.14 mg/L. A normal child has a blood volume of 2-3 L, so a normal child has 5-9 mg of formaldehyde floating in her blood, about 1,000,000 times more than found in a dose of vaccine…It would take probably 10-20 million doses of vaccines to just slightly increase the formaldehyde level in your child.

Incidentally, lots of natural foods contain formaldehyde, including fruit and nuts. But let’s not let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Incidentally, lots of natural foods contain formaldehyde,
including fruit and nuts. But let’s not let the truth get in the
way of a good story…

ANTI-VAXXERS: “I don’t need to vaccinate my child because the other children are vaccinated.”

YOU: “ I’m sorry to say this, but that is a very selfish attitude – and a harmful one.”

Herd immunity” is an important principle that’s worth understanding. It’s based on the idea that if a certain amount of people in the community are vaccinated against a certain disease, the chances of contracting that disease plummet down to zero. It also indirectly protects others that can’t be vaccinated, such as very young children or the elderly population who may be susceptible as the disease is no longer thriving in the community. But when lots of people stop immunising – Bingo – outbreaks of preventable diseases start to occur.

ANTI-VAXXERS: “ The vaccine schedule is just too much – too many, too quickly.”

YOU: “ Please show me a study that proves that this is a problem. (Because there aren’t any).”

It’s important not to make out anti-vaxxers to be a lot of idiots. This never helps anyone, and of course it is not the case. We must realise that it’s human nature to want to protect our children, to be concerned about their welfare and to want to question things. Of course a parent may be concerned that their child is being inflicted with an onslaught of needles. Also, some children have sound medical reasons to abstain from certain vaccinations, such as immunity problems or other health conditions.

The fact remains though that there is no scientific evidence that proves any harm is done to the child through the current vaccination schedule. On the contrary, spreading out the vaccinations over a much longer time frame could:

  • allow children to develop a negative view or fear of going to the doctor,
  • increase the cost of providing health care due to the increased number of visits to the nurse or doctor, and
  • make child vulnerable to serious illnesses in the interim periods between vaccinations.

ANTI- VAXXERS: “Vaccines are all part of a conspiracy. ‘Big Pharma’ is out to get us…”

YOU: “No. That’s just not true.”

Unfortunately, this is a difficult argument to combat. People who believe in conspiracy theories are unlikely to change their minds. Whether it’s the 9/11 cover-up, UFOs or fairies at the bottom of the garden, there’s not much you can do about people’s beliefs. All you can do is be polite. If anything, NOT vaccinating a child because of a bunch of ill-founded and manipulative messages one has read on the internet is succumbing to a very nasty conspiracy. But let’s move on.

ANTI- VAXXERS: “There are two sides to every debate.”

YOU: “Yes, there are. For example, some may debate that the earth is round while others may debate that the earth is flat.”

This leads us to our final point. Due to the University of Google and social media, everyone today is touting their ‘opinions’, with the assumption that their beliefs deserve equal weight as scientific fact. Here’s a classic quote we found on the Internet recently:

“People say that the vaccine-autism link was proven false, but I think that’s a LIE!” – anon. Don’t opinions have a nasty habit of getting in the way of facts?

“People say that the vaccine-autism link was proven false, but I think that’s a LIE!”
– anon.

Don’t opinions have a nasty habit of getting in the way of facts?

Everyone may be ‘entitled to an opinion’, but opinions based on idle fancy (e.g. I think strawberry milkshakes are tastier than chocolate) are different from opinions that are serious candidates for the truth. The latter comes from people with sound expertise and scientific backing – not opinion garnered from the internet. So, let’s just say it pays to pick and choose your information carefully, and to try not to confuse opinions with facts.

In fact, let’s rephrase that: NEVER confuse opinions with facts.

Finally – what about those kids that had a problem with the flu vaccine in 2010?
good friday appeal 3In Australia, high incidences of fever and febrile convulsions in children under the age of five years were reported in 2010 after some children were vaccinated with the bioCSL Fluvax vaccine. This particular vaccine has not been registered for use in children under the age of five since late 2010 and therefore, should not be given to children in this age bracket. However, there is adequate data that indicates that several other brands have a very low risk of fever (which is usually short lived and mild) following vaccination. These particular vaccines can be used in children aged six months and older.

On this theme, watch Elmo from Sesame Street get his vaccinations!

Sage Institute of Child Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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