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Dirty Vaccines

by Ryan Mayer  |  published on February 3, 2015


Vaccines are in the news again.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that there are now around 100 cases of measles in 14 states. To the horror of the kid in all of us, Disneyland was reported to have been a recent hot zone. Vaccination debates on social media get real ugly, real fast, even among friends and otherwise similarly-minded people. Parents are responsible for acting in the best interests of their children and so the responsibility of parents to do what is reasonable to help prevent a serious infectious disease for their children—and their neighbors—increases as the seriousness of the disease and its rates of infection increase. While measles is highly contagious, it rarely results in death, although serious complications associated with measles can occur, such as swelling of the brain and pneumonia. It is also very serious for pregnant women and their unborn children. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were around 55,000 cases of measles worldwide in 2014, down from over four million in 1980. That’s a significant difference and a difference no doubt due to vaccination. The WHO attributes a 75% drop in measles worldwide between 2000 and 2013 alone to vaccination. I have yet to see compelling evidence that would suggest that parents not vaccinate against measles.

Every medical intervention carries some risk of side effects and these must be reasonably weighed. The risk of developing a serious condition following vaccination for measles is about one in ten thousand—about the same as the risk of permanent paralysis of the tongue following wisdom tooth extraction. To put this in perspective, you are ten times more likely to be killed the next time you cross the street than you are to develop a very serious reaction from a measles vaccine. That’s a risk that needs to be weighed, of course. But the consequences for both personal and public health of not vaccinating for measles far outweighs the very small risk that a child will develop a serious complication from the vaccine. It seems safe to say that measles vaccination is safe and effective in preventing outbreaks of measles.

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