In the year 1900, the top three causes of death were infectious diseases: pneumonia and flu, tuberculosis, and gastrointestinal infections. Improvements in sanitation and medical treatments, such as antibiotics, surely led to dramatic declines in deaths from infectious diseases during the 20th century, but the development of vaccinations is really what got the job done. In fact, vaccines save over 9 million lives each year.
As stated above, vaccinations have done wonders for our world. Yet, in today’s society, there are two dominant views on the issue of vaccinations. Namely, the ‘’pro-vaxxers’’ versus the ‘’anti-vaxxers’’. The first group states that it is important for yourself and the rest of the society that the vast majority is vaccinated against harmful diseases in order to prevent an outbreak. For this reason, pro-vaxxers think that vaccinations should be obligatory. The opposing group, however believes that vaccinations do more harm than good, and therefore should not be used, let alone be obligated. Through the course of this essay, I will analyse these two distinct perspectives on this issue, to conclude whether vaccinations should or should not be obligated by law and why you should get vaccinated.
In 1796, the scientist Edward Jenner injected material from a cow pox virus into an eight-year-old boy, with a hunch that this would provide the protection needed to save people from deadly outbreaks of the related smallpox virus. It was a success, the eight-year-old boy was inoculated against the disease, and this became the first ever vaccine. But why did it work? To understand how vaccines function we need to know how the immune system defends us against contagious diseases in the first place.
When foreign microbes invade us, the immune system triggers a series of responses to identify and remove them from our bodies. The signs that these responses are working are the coughing, sneezing, inflammation, and fever we experience. These work to trap, deter and rid the body of threatening things like bacteria. These innate immune responses also trigger our second line of defence called adaptive immunity.
Special cells, called B-cells and T-cells, are recruited to fight microbes and also record information about them, creating a memory of what the invaders look like, and how best to fight them. This know-how comes handy when the same pathogen invades the body again. (A pathogen is something that can develop into a disease, or simply a germ). But despite the smart response, there is still a risk involved. The body takes time to learn how to respond to pathogens and to build up these defences. And even then, if a body is too weak or young to fight back when it’s invaded, it might face very serious risk if the pathogen Is particularly severe. But what if we could prepare the body’s immune response, readying it before someone even got ill? This is where vaccines come in. Using the same principles that the body uses to defend itself, scientists use vaccines to trigger the body’s immune system, without exposing humans to the full-strength disease. This has resulted in many vaccines which each work uniquely, separated into many different types. First, we have live-attenuated vaccines. These are made of the pathogen itself, but a much weaker and tamer version. Next, we have inactive vaccines, in which the pathogens have been killed.
The weakening of pathogens in both types of vaccines ensures that pathogens don’t develop into the full-blown disease. But just like a disease, they trigger an immune response, teaching the body to recognize the attack by making a profile of pathogens in preparation. The downside of live attenuated vaccines is that they can be difficult to make. And because they are live and quite powerful, people with weaker immune systems can’t have them, while inactive vaccines don’t create long-lasting immunity. Another type, called the subunit vaccine, is only made form one part of the pathogen, called an antigen, the ingredient that actually triggers the immune response. By even further isolating specific components of antigens, like proteins or polysaccharides, these vaccines can prompt specific responses.
This all seems wonderful, but still many people choose to not vaccinate themselves or their children. Based on findings, researchers worry that more parents may be refusing vaccines in the future, raising the risk that diseases like measles and whooping cough will spread through the community. In 2013, news channel Reuters reported that almost half of babies and toddlers were not receiving the recommended vaccinations on time, and thus increasing the risk of an outbreak. And then, in 2014/2015, a measles outbreak emerged in Disneyland California, which infected at least 131 residents of the state, and then spread to six other states. Most of the infected people were not vaccinated. This caused people to see the benefits of vaccinations, causing the vaccination rates to rise.
Still the question is: why are some parents foregoing vaccinations? and how will this affect the population in general? the Centers for Disease Control, the organization tasked with limiting the spread of disease in the united states, recommends that all Americans receive vaccination shots for various diseases. No federal law exists that forces parents to vaccinate their children, but all 50 states require vaccinations for children entering public schools. however, a large number of states allow parents to opt out of these vaccinations. in some states it's as easy as signing a piece of paper. Why are these parents opting out? Well, children with weakened immune systems or other medical conditions should not receive some vaccinations without a doctor's recommendation. People that are part of a culture or religion that tends to be against vaccinations, like some Amish or Hasidic communities, also choose to opt out. Other children, primarily from low-income households simply slip through the cracks because their parents don't have the time, money or access needed to vaccinate them.
And finally, there are some parents who fear their children will develop autism or have other severe reactions to the shot. This belief stems from a 1998 study linking autism to vaccinations. A study that has since been discredited and retracted in 2010. The CDC cites several studies completely rejects the claim of vaccines causing autism. Still, the myth persists. Also, there are indications that a section of parents chooses to delay the shots because they're concerned that the government's vaccine schedule isn't right for their child.
Anti-vaxxers tend to say: ’it’s not your problem if I choose to not vaccinate, what does it matter to you?’. Well, it matters to the rest, because there is evidence that people who are not vaccinated against certain diseases like measles or whooping cough are not only endangering themselves, but also endangering the vaccinated majority. When fewer people are vaccinated for diseases, the chances that even vaccinated people will be infected goes up. This is because no vaccine is 100% effective. The immunity of large groups, which is known as herd immunity, only fully works in an environment with high vaccination rates. For example, imagine a very crowded shopping-street in the rain. Everyone has an umbrella, so everyone stays dry, including babies that can’t hold their own umbrella. Suddenly, somebody says that he does not want to carry an umbrella anymore, so he decides to throw his away. But because most people keep theirs, he still keeps dry in the street. No problem. But if more people follow, and get rid of their umbrellas too, there will be gaps. Meaning that people will get wet again.
So, when the majority of a group of people is immune to a disease, that disease is less likely to spread far, even among non-vaccinated people. Herd immunity serves as a vital buffer to babies who are too young and other people who are too sick to be vaccinated. If herd immunity dips below 90% for diseases like measles or whooping cough, larger outbreaks occur. And that is exactly what is been happening now as more parents refuse to vaccinate their children. Herd immunity can be very helpful, but sadly it does not protect against all diseases. Tetanus, for example, is caught from bacteria in the environment, not from other people that have the disease. It doesn’t matter how many people around you are vaccinated against tetanus – it will not protect you as an individual.
Another point made by anti-vaxxers is that vaccinations contain dangerous ingredients like formaldehyde, aluminium and mercury. Which is true, vaccines have contained all three of these chemicals. These ingredients can be toxic, but what else can be toxic? Water (given a large enough dose). The same applies to apples, coffee, or too much of anything really. The dose makes the poison, and the doses of the chemicals in vaccines are negligible. For example, vaccines that include aluminium contain about 0.125mg per dose. But the average person actually takes in an estimated 30-50mg every day through foods and drinks. That’s way more than one vaccination. And while some people warn about the mercury-containing compounds like thimerosal (a vaccine preservative to prevent bacterial growth) it’s actually been removed from all childhood vaccines since 2001. This was done to ease public concern, even though literature suggests its harmful at doses present in vaccines.
The nasty ingredients used in vaccines are the only reason that vaccines work at all. On their own, our bodies are already pretty good at fighting off illness via the regular immune system. But vaccines can help us by preparing our bodies for a possible attack. As I stated in the fourth paragraph, that preparation does require introducing a bit of the enemy into our bodies, but its an enemy that we have already disarmed, either by killing it, breeding a super-weak strain, or dismembering it to get at recognizable, but not dangerous parts. This is where formaldehyde comes in. it’s a critical ingredient in some vaccines, like those for tetanus and influenza, because it alters the structure of those pathogens just enough to render them harmless.
This reactivity also makes the substance dangerous to us in large doses, but vaccines contain only a tiny fraction of the formaldehyde we consume in food and naturally produce on a daily basis. In fact, the biggest risk with form is that it can leave pathogens so crippled, that they won’t trigger the proper immune response. Some vaccines also contain substances called ‘’adjuvants’’, which put the immune system on higher alert. Aluminium, for example, causes a minor irritation at injection site, summoning immune cells to scene so they’ll encounter the weakened enemy. And although too much aluminium can be toxic, our bodies are very good at eliminating it, keeping levels low even after lots of shots.
So, while boatloads of aluminium, buckets of formaldehyde, and a meeting with a full strength pathogen are all bad ideas, a controlled concoction from a doctor is designed to be just nasty enough to keep us safe. There’s always a chance of an adverse reaction to a vaccine, but a much scarier scenario would be to let polio, measles and other deadly diseases call the shots.
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