In order to try to get you to refuse vaccination, the anti-vaccination propagandists will often try to convince you that vaccines are unsafe. They will tell you that vaccines cause debilitating disease and sickness. However, such claims ignore the medical literature, which says something quite different. Before I tell you how we know that vaccines are safe, let me spend a moment discussing what “safe” means in terms of medical science.
Would you consider taking a bath to be safe? Did you know that roughly 350 people die every year because of taking baths1? If so many people die every year taking baths, why do we continue this “dangerous” practice? We continue it because it is significantly more dangerous to not take baths than to take baths. If you decide to stop taking baths due to the alarming statistic quoted above, you are opening yourself up to all kinds of diseases. Thus, even though it is possible for you to die taking a bath, the benefits of taking that bath far outweigh the risks. As a result, we continue to take baths, despite the fact that some people die from it every year.
That’s exactly the kind of reasoning used to determine what is medically safe. Virtually every medicine and activity comes with risks. Even vitamins can cause liver damage, bleeding problems, heart injury, and bone problems, especially when taken in high doses.2 Thus, no matter what you do, you take risks. The question when evaluating any medical procedure is simply this: Do you risk more by refusing the medical procedure than by accepting the procedure? In the case of vaccinations, the medical research is quite clear. You are significantly more at risk if you refuse the standard vaccinations than if you get them.
How can I state this so definitively? All you have to do is look at the data that has been collected on this point, and it is quite clear. First, we know that over the past several years, the vaccination rate has increased in the United States. During this same time period, children in the United States have become significantly more healthy. Consider the following data3:
Now do these graphs prove that vaccines are safe? Of course not. There are many factors that contribute to health and mortality, and there is no way from this study to conclude whether the increase in vaccination rates actually caused the increase in children’s health and the decrease in mortality rates. However, this graph presents a huge problem to anyone who wants to claim that vaccines are dangerous. If vaccines are so dangerous, why are children becoming healthier while the vaccination rate is increasing?
Of course, the only way to make a strong scientific conclusion when it comes to medicine is to do controlled studies. Many such studies have been done, and the conclusions are that vaccinated children are healthier than non-vaccinated children. For example, one study looked at 496 vaccinated and unvaccinated children, comparing the health of the vaccinated children to that of the unvaccinated children. It found that children who received immunizations against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, Hib, and polio within the first 3 months of life had fewer infections than those who did not. Surprisingly enough, even the rates of infections unrelated to the vaccines were lower in the vaccinated group than in the unvaccinated group.4 Several other studies5-7 reach similar conclusions. These studies clearly show us that the risk of not vaccinating is higher than that of vaccinating, because unvaccinated children are sicker than vaccinated children. You can choose to ignore such studies, but you do so at your family’s risk!
The other way we can see how risky it is to not vaccinate people is to observe what happens when vaccination rates go down. For example, in 1975, Japan imposed a moratorium on the use of the pertussis vaccine, due in part to hysterical anti-vaccination propagandists. As a result, the vaccination rate dropped significantly. In the three years before the moratorium, there were 400 cases of pertussis and 10 associated deaths. In the three years following the moratorium, there were 13,000 cases (33.5 TIMES as many cases) of pertussis and 113 associated deaths (11.3 TIMES as many deaths). Of those that didn’t die, more than 200 experienced convulsions and about 15 have permanent brain damage. Due to these alarming statistics, the government started promoting vaccination again, and vaccination rates increased dramatically. As a result, pertussis rates went back to their pre-moratorium levels.8 That’s the risk associated with not vaccinating – innocent children die or suffer permanent injury.
This kind of tragedy occurs in the United States as well. Between 1990 and 1991, there was a measles outbreak in Philadelphia. The outbreak was traced back to a church whose members refused immunization on religious grounds. In the outbreak, 1,600 children were infected. Of those, nine died. Of the nine innocent children who died, seven were from that church. The other two who died were babies who lived nearby and had not yet gotten their MMR vaccination9. Had the church not been anti-vaccination, these nine precious ones would still be alive today. If you would like to learn more about the ravages induced on innocent children by the anti-vaccination movement, please see our discussion entitled, Small Decision, Large Impact: Why Not Vaccinating Your Child Is Dangerous or Individuals Who Have Suffered or Died Because They Were Not Vaccinated.
Before I end this discussion, I must spend a moment discussing the contents of vaccines. Anti- vaccination propagandists will often list the contents of vaccines in order to try to scare you. Many of the contents of vaccines sound scary, and some (like mercury) are even known to cause biological harm in certain situations. As a result, the anti-vaccination propagandists will tell you that vaccines contain poisons. Of course, if this were true, the studies I listed above (references 4-7) would have reached radically different conclusions. If vaccines were toxic, then vaccinated children would not be healthier than unvaccinated children! Nevertheless, the studies demonstrate that they are.
How can a vaccine containing things like mercury be safe? The answer is quite simple, and anyone with a modicum of training in chemistry should know this. Whether or not a substance is toxic to the body depends on its concentration. Substances like mercury are toxic only if they reach a high enough concentration. It is important to note that even things we think of as “healthy” are also toxic at high enough concentration. For example, if you take too many vitamins, you risk damaging your health (see reference 2). Thus, the concentration of a substance is instrumental in determining whether or not it is a poison.
At the concentrations found in vaccines, mercury (and other supposed “toxins”) are not toxic. How do we know that these substances are not toxic at the levels found in vaccines? Because study after study has demonstrated this. First of all, in order to get licensed vaccines must undergo a long-term, rigorous approval process that includes animal studies and controlled studies on volunteers. These controlled studies are specifically designed to look for maladies that might arise from any of the additives in the vaccines. Secondly, follow up studies are constantly being done to monitor vaccine safety. Finally, the Vaccine Adverse Effect Reporting System (VAERS) investigates all reported cases of what appear to be reactions to a vaccination. As a result, we have a wealth of data regarding the effects of vaccines, and the data continually point to the fact that it is much more risky to refuse the standard vaccinations than to accept them.
1. Budnick, L.D., and Ross, D.A., “Bathtub-related drownings in the United States, 1979-1981.” American Journal of Public Health, 75: 630-633, 1985.
2. Illnesses and Injuries Associated With the Use of Selected Dietary Supplements, U. S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, 1993 (Available online)
3. America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2002 (Available online) “General Health” is given as the percentage of children (Age 0-18) in very good or excellent health. “Infant Mortality” is the number of deaths of children under 1 year of age per 7,500. “Child Mortality” is the number of deaths of children age 1-4 per 150,00. “Preadolescent Mortality” is the number of deaths of children age 5-14 per 300,000.
4. Otto S, et al. “General non-specific morbidity is reduced after vaccination within the third month of life-the Greifswald study.” J Infect. 41:172-175, 2000.
5. Black SB, et al. “Apparent decreased risk of invasive bacterial disease after heterologous childhood immunization.” Am J Dis Child. 145:746-749, 1991.
6. Davidson M, , et al. “DTP immunization and susceptibility to infectious diseases. Is there a relationship?” Am J Dis Child., 145:750-754, 1991.
7. Essery SD, et al. “The protective effect of immunisation against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (DPT) in relation to sudden infant death syndrome” FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol, 25:1-2, 183-92, 1999.
8. Gangarosa, AM, et al. “Impact of Anti-Vaccine Movements on Pertussis Control: The Untold Story” Lancet 1998; 351(9099) 356-361.
9. Anita Manning, “To vaccinate or not to vaccinate: Parents worry about safety-which worries health officials,” USA Today, July 17, 2000.
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.