The Vaccine Debate: Getting Answers

Anyone who follows the vaccine debate knows that, publicly, only two sides are ever presented. You’re either pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine. You’re either think there’s nothing wrong with vaccines or vaccines cause all childhood complications. You’re either completely misinformed or you’re all-knowing. The couple shouting out the “toxins” in vaccines, the doctor calling people delusional and crazy makes for great television; it gets ratings. But it doesn’t help anyone looking for real answers.

The autism/vaccine debate started in 1998 when Andrew Wakefield and his group published a study in Lancet, which is a highly reputable journal. Lancet retracted the study in February. When the announcement was made, my initial reaction was “Didn’t that already happen?” The study had been shunned in the scientific community long before the retraction. There was some subterfuge on Wakefield’s end as well as a poor study design. But since then several studies have come out showing there is not a correlation between autism and vaccines. This is a major part of the vaccine debate, but isn’t the focus of this post.

For some parents, it isn’t the autism issue that concerns them, but it’s ingredients they have heard about or the number of vaccines given at one time. I am not a parent, but I am an older sister. I am also a scientist/researcher. When it’s vaccination time for my siblings, my parents call me with questions and I answer as best I can. If I can’t answer, I research the topic and find the answer. This brings me to my next point. If you have concerns about vaccines or any topic for that fact, the #1 thing you can do is educate yourself. Don’t just accept what you hear about vaccines because there is a lot of misinformation and plenty of places to get it.

1. Do not watch TV specials

2. Do not get information from celebrities; they have no credentials

3. Do not use the first website that pops up; they are usually biased

Do a pubmed or Google scholar search. Find peer reviewed articles. Talk to an expert if one is available. Not into chemistry, immunology, or any other –ology? Then have someone do it for you. Put an ad on craigslist; there are tons of graduate students looking to make an extra buck. Tell them exactly what you want to know and they’ll find it; they are experts at finding obscure information.

Here are some questions I think can be useful for parents to research or ask a pediatrician.

1. What kind of vaccine is it? Is it attenuated? Inactivated? Just a single protein?

2. What do those things in #1 mean?

3. What are the general risks for a particular vaccine? What are the most common complications? Is there anything we
can do to help prevent them?

4. Do you offer alternative or modified shot schedules?

5. If you have concerns then talk to your child’s doctor. He may not tell you what you want to hear, but at least
he/she is listening and can give you information.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a step in a direction leading to answers.


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