Children’s Vaccines: Sifting Through the Controversy
In light of the new vaccination schedule released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the CDC, some might still be on the fence regarding the decision to vaccinate their children. The new schedule is comprised of vaccines for 16 different infectious diseases that are to be administered from birth to 18 years of age with multiple doses required for the majority of the vaccines. Over the past few years, the vaccination debate has gained a significant amount of airtime, possibly due to the famous faces associated with the argument, such as Jenny McCarthy. Opponents of children’s vaccines cite a number of reasons for their position including claims that the vaccines can cause autism, brain damage, permanent disability, or even death. But is there any truth to these claims?
The short answer is that it’s difficult to say. As with most other treatments in medicine, vaccines are not without their potential side effects, but the real question is: how often does this actually happen, and could my child be at risk? For some parents, it’s simply easier to comply with the recommended vaccination schedules – in fact, most public schools require children to be vaccinated for certain diseases before being allowed entry. For others, it’s simply not a risk worth taking. Perhaps the most pertinent claim being made is that the mercury-based additive thiomersal, which has been a component of most vaccines manufactured before 1999, is a contributing cause for autism and other developmental disorders. Well over 5,000 claims linking vaccines to autism or another developmental disorder have been made to the US Court of Federal Claims from 1988 to 2008 – only one of these claims were compensated.
The consensus from the scientific community seems to be that these claims are largely false or highly exaggerated; no significant evidence linking vaccination to autism has been obtained, leaving such claims “unjustified” in the eyes of the scientific community. These cases could simply be coincidence, or there could be some undiscovered component that can act as a catalyst, provoking the manifestation of autism in individuals that may perhaps have a predisposition to the disorder. As it stands, medical professionals agree that the benefits of these vaccines highly outweigh the risks, especially if your child is susceptible to disease for one reason or another. If this isn’t enough to quell your skepticism, keep in mind that even though public schools do have mandatory vaccination requirements, most do allow exemptions on a religious or philosophical basis. It may be the case that we recognize the consequences of these vaccines much later than anyone would have guessed – after all, it wouldn’t be the first time that an approved treatment turned out to be highly detrimental to one’s health (see: thalidomide, the morning sickness pill that was found to cause birth defects in 50’s). Regardless, safety standards are constantly improving and ultimately, it is your (informed) decision to make.