Vaccinations have been a mainstay of medical therapy now for centuries. There are reports of eastern medicine utilizing the concept of inoculation to protect against illness as early as the 15th century. Edward Jenner is commonly referred to as the father of modern vaccination after he demonstrated immunity with the inoculation of a 13-year-old boy with cowpox (vaccinia) virus in the 1790’s. Development of vaccines moved at a fevered pace over the next centuries to help eradicate some of the more aggressive diseases threatening the global population. Legendary virologists such as Louis Pasteur and Jonas Salk are revered throughout the medical community for their contributions to science and public safety. Major civic health menaces such as polio and smallpox have now been virtually eradicated from the planet. So it is interesting that there is a growing movement questioning the advantage of vaccinations despite centuries of objective data highlighting the benefits.
A great review piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association on United States Centers for Disease Control data (JAMA. 2007;298(18):2155-2163. doi:10.1001/jama.298.18.2155) compared the morbidity and mortality before and after widespread implementation of national vaccine recommendations. This chart produced by Pfizer helps put a visual on the data:
Despite this evidence, the chatter is out there. Pronounced in an online world where noise is abundant and topics can be debated vigorously oftentimes with experts who are not that expert. As a practicing physician (in the adult realm) who specializes in chronically ill patients typically with impaired immune responses – it seems I have to regularly debate the validity of certain vaccine recommendations to my patients. I have heard it all – sanitation improvements are the root cause of improved clinical outcomes rather than vaccinations / Vaccines bring about autism or Aspergers or Dementia / Vaccinations actually make people ill / I still get the flu despite the shot (not realizing that there are many different flu viruses and they are constantly changing. The composition of U.S. flu vaccines is reviewed annually and updated as needed to match circulating flu viruses. Flu vaccines protect against the three or four viruses (depending on the vaccine) that research suggests will be most common and most aggressive).
Now I am not saying that vaccines are side effect averse – reactions typically like rash or pain at the injection site along with fevers/fatigue from a mild immune response can rarely occur. CDC data shows that typically more serious medical conditions such as autism or Guillain Barre Syndrome following vaccination are either negligible or small on the order of one to two additional cases per million doses of vaccine administered. Resounding public health data and recommendations from health organizations domestic and abroad, private and public recommend compliance to standard vaccine protocols both for maintenance and for international travel health (if not allergic to vaccine components). Let’s be safe and smart – let’s get our vaccines and help make this a safer world for both ourselves and our co-inhabitants.