Measles Outbreak 2019 and the Pros/Cons of Vaccination

Ali Chesley, Opinion Editor

Measles, which is an “eliminated disease” according to the CDC, has now caused a state of emergency in Washington. The state of emergency was declared on January 29, 2019 after 36 confirmed cases of measles, which has now risen to 43 confirmed cases. Measles is defined as, “an infectious viral disease causing fever and a red rash on the skin, typically occurring in childhood.” Also according to the CDC, Measles is most dangerous for babies and children with most deaths from measles are from children 5 years or younger. Some children may even develop pneumonia or lifelong brain damage.

Since 2000, there have been less than 200 cases of measles annually in the US. Measles outbreaks occur when unvaccinated people catch it outside of the US and then spread it to non-vaccinated people inside the US. Measles is one of the most infectious diseases that we know of. The virus can be spread through the air after an infected person coughs. According to the CDC, “if one person has it, 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.”

With this recent outbreak, many are reconsidering their position on the Pro-Vaxxer/ Anti-Vaxxer debate. What are the benefits and risks of vaccination? Are they worth it?

Vaccines contain antigens which help the body develop immunity to a certain disease. There are also small amounts of other ingredients that are used to ensure that the vaccine is safe and effective. Preservatives like thimerosal are used to prevent contamination. Aluminum salts are used as adjuvants which stimulate the body’s response to the antigens. Sugars and gelatin are used as stabilizers to protect the potency of the vaccine during transportation and storage. Formaldehyde is a residual inactivating ingredient, which kills viruses or inactive toxins during manufacturing.  All of these ingredients are in safe amounts for human injection.

The CDC attests to the safety of vaccination by writing, “The United States’ long-standing vaccine safety system ensures that vaccines are as safe as possible. Currently, the United States has the safest vaccine supply in its history. Millions of children safely receive vaccines each year. The most common side effects are typically very mild, such as pain or swelling at the injection site.” The CDC also disputes the claim that vaccines cause autism because scientific studies continue to show no causal connection between the two.

Vaccines have proven to be very effective. “Most childhood vaccines are 90%-99% effective in preventing disease”  according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. [email protected], a United Nations Foundation partner organization, reports that vaccines save 2.5 million children each year, or approximately 285 children per hour. According to an estimation by the CDC, 732,000 deaths of American children were prevented between 1994 and 2014. Countless organizations endorse vaccinations as a safe practice, including the FDA, CDC, AMA, WHO, and many others.

Many cite “herd immunity” as a reason not to vaccinate their children. Herd immunity is the idea that because many people are already vaccinated in the United States, one’s chances of catching a vaccinatable disease are little to none. Although there may be more protection than if no one was immunized, this does not hold true because the disease will still pass from a non-immune person to the next non-immune person. It can also pass to babies that are too young to have had a certain immunization yet.

Vaccines also have economic benefits. It saves money and time to vaccinate your child, rather than take off work and pay hefty medical bills after your child catches an infectious disease. There is also an economic benefit for society. The CDC estimates that children who were immunized between 1994 and 2014 have saved the U.S. net savings of $1.38 trillion in “societal costs.” Societal costs refer to the money and resources used to treat diseases and other costs relating to diseases.   By providing Hib, pneumococcal, and rotavirus vaccinations to the 73 poorest countries, the U.S. could save $62.9 billion, according to the International Vaccines Access Center at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Overall, vaccines have prevented many deaths and have nearly eradicated horrible diseases like smallpox and polio. Vaccines protect future generations from harm. Despite the benefits of vaccination, there are also risks and cons.

Vaccines can have serious and life-threatening side effects.  All vaccines have a risk of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, in about one per million children according to the CDC. According to the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), vaccines could be linked to asthma, diabetes, chronic inflammation, learning disabilities, and other disabilities.

Vaccines can contain ingredients that are considering immoral by some. “Some DTaP/IPV/Hib combination, Hep A/Hep B combination, HepA, MMR, and chickenpox vaccines are cultivated in cells from two fetuses aborted in the 1960s (listed as MRC-5 and WI-38 on package inserts). The Catholic Church, in a June 9, 2005 report about using vaccines made using cells from aborted fetuses, indicated that “there is a grave responsibility to use alternative vaccines” to avoid the ‘evil’ of actively or passively participating in anything that involves voluntary abortion,” according to Vaccines Pro/  Other vaccines may use “chicken eggs, bovine casein, insect cells, Cocker Spaniel cells, pig gelatin, and cells from African Green monkeys,” which makes those vaccines not vegetarian/vegan.

It is also true that natural immunization (getting a disease and surviving it), is much more effective than unnatural immunization. Though it is important to keep in mind that immunizable diseases are often very dangerous for babies and children under the age of five. Vaccinations also can be controversial because the FDA and the CDC may be more concerned with the sale of pharmaceuticals than public health. There is also accusations of compromised integrity due to the relationship between the public health community and vaccine makers. For example, LYMErix was supported by the FDA for nearly four years. It was later pulled from the market due to several class action lawsuits. These lawsuits were filed because of a potential causal relationship to arthritis. Diseases that are targeted by vaccines are generally not hard to treat, like the chicken-pox or rubella, but again this is not always the case for infants.

Overall vaccination, despite its drawbacks, has proven to be effective in preventing diseases. Vaccination is a personal choice that should not be made lightly, and the measles outbreak in Washington proves the weight of this decision.