While reading through anti-vaccination literature, I often come across the argument that vaccines are a multi-billion dollar business, and that the standard vaccination schedule is built mostly out of a desire to line the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies rather than out of concern for people’s health1.
As is the case with most of what the anti-vaccination movement claims, this idea cannot stand up to scrutiny. If the standard vaccination schedule is meant to line the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies, it is doing a lousy job! After all, there are many, many vaccines that are available today and licensed for use but are not on the standard vaccination schedule.
For example, we do not routinely vaccinate against smallpox anymore. Why? Because the vaccine has completely destroyed smallpox (see “The Unique History of Smallpox”). As a result, the only smallpox viruses left are in laboratory samples. This means that the chance of catching smallpox (barring some terrorist act or horrible laboratory accident) is zero. As a result, there is no need to be vaccinated against smallpox, so it is no longer on the standard vaccination schedule. If the goal were to simply enrich the pharmaceutical companies, why aren’t we still vaccinating against smallpox? The vaccine has already been used on millions and millions of Americans. Why not still use it today? Because medically, there is no reason to use it anymore.
We also have vaccines against diseases that still exist today but are not found in the United States. There are vaccines against yellow fever, typhoid, tuberculosis, and Japanese encephalitis2, for example. These vaccines have all been shown to be safe and effective, and they are used in many parts of the world. Why aren’t they a part of the standard vaccination schedule? Because as long as you stay in the United States, you have almost no chance of being exposed to these diseases. Thus, there is simply no medical reason for you to get vaccinated. Now, if you end up traveling to parts of the world where these diseases are a problem, you definitely should be vaccinated against them, because you are likely to be exposed to them. Otherwise, however, there is simply no reason for you to be vaccinated. As a result, these vaccines are also not a part of the standard vaccination schedule.
Now once again, if the goal were to simply make money for the pharmaceutical companies, why not throw the yellow fever, typhoid, tuberculosis, and Japanese encephalitis vaccines into the standard vaccination schedule for everyone? After all, they are all licensed, which means that they have been demonstrated to be safe and effective. Indeed, they are used routinely on people for whom the risk of these diseases is significant. Why not just use them for everyone in the United States as well? The answer is simple – the standard vaccination schedule is determined based on the health of the people of the United States. If there is little or no risk for contracting a disease in the United States, there is no reason to spend the time and money vaccinating everyone against the disease. In addition, there are risks associated with any activity, including vaccination. A vaccine is recommended for everyone on the standard vaccination schedule when the risk of not vaccinating exceeds the risk of vaccinating (see “Vaccines are very Safe”). For the yellow fever, typhoid, Japanese encephalitis, and meningococcal vaccines, the risks of vaccination exceed the benefits of vaccination, except for certain high-risk groups. As a result, vaccination is only recommended for those high-risk groups. This is the kind of sound, medical thinking that goes into modern medicine, and it is the same kind of thinking that is sorely lacking in most anti-vaccination literature.
Dr. Wile is not a medical doctor. He is a nuclear chemist. As a result, he does not dispense medical advice. He simply educates the public about scientific issues. Please consult a board-certified medical doctor before making any medical decisions for yourself or your family.