To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate?


By: Heather Somaini

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When our twins were born, vaccines were very controversial.  We were obsessed and worried that anything we did could hurt our precious little babies.  We heard about some of the claims that certain vaccines cause autism in children.  We even watched an episode of Oprah that completely freaked us out.  How could we possibly do anything that could harm our kids later?  It killed me to think I could make a decision now that could hurt them and affect the rest of their lives.

I decided to just sit in that terrible place and worry.  Tere decided to actually do some reading.  She became well-versed with Dr. Bill Sears’s The Vaccine Book .  I never read it so I can’t answer many questions but what it did for Tere was awesome.  It gave her the knowledge and understanding of the controversial vaccines and allowed us to make decisions about which vaccines we were going to give to our kids and when.  It made us feel like we had some small amount of control in making good decisions for our kids.

Vaccinations have been controversial since the day they were created.  They were originally called inoculation or variolation and the first known experiment was in 1721 by Dr. Zabdiel Boylston in Boston.  He first experimented against smallpox on his 6-year-old son, his slave, and his slave’s son.  Each of the patients did miraculously well.

There has always been controversy about vaccinations.  Many object on religious grounds.  The thinking goes that God created disease to punish people for their sins so we shouldn’t try and stop it.  But what historically occurs is that a disease runs rampant through a population, vaccines become necessary, everyone vaccinates their children, and vaccines are popular.  But as disease declines because of the vaccinations, people begin to dismiss their benefits, focus on safety, and subsequently begin believing that the decline in a particular disease is not necessarily related to the vaccine at all and that the risks outweigh the benefits.  Parents then begin to vaccinate less and the disease begins to creep back into the population.

Lack of complete vaccine coverage increases the risk of disease for the entire population, including those who have been vaccinated, because it reduces herd immunity . An example: measles vaccine targets children between the ages of 9 and 12 months, and the short window between the disappearance of maternal antibody and natural infection means that vaccinated children frequently are still vulnerable. Herd immunity lessens this vulnerability, if all the children are vaccinated.

There have been a number of reoccurrences of disease after a reduction in vaccinations.  A few of the surprising ones are:

  • After an anti-vaccination campaign reduced the vaccination rate in Stockholm to just 40% in 1873, an epidemic of smallpox erupted.  This led to a rise in vaccine uptake and the epidemic ended.
  • In 1974, a report in the United Kingdom claimed that the vaccine for whooping cough was only marginally effective.  Vaccination rates declined to 31% and an outbreak of pertussis followed.  The World Health Organization estimates that whooping cough (pertussis) caused 294,000 deaths in 2002.
  • In 2005, a measles outbreak occurred in Indiana, completely related to parents not vaccinating their children.

Here in the US along with a number of other developed countries, there has been great controversy over the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine due to a paper written by Andrew Wakefield and others published in The Lancet in 1998.  The paper reported on a study of 12 children with autism spectrum disorders with onset soon after receiving the MMR vaccine.  Ultimately, it was shown that Wakefield was conflicted and unethical and in 2009, The Sunday Times reported that he had manipulated data and misreported results creating an appearance of a link with autism that just didn’t exist.

Tere and I ultimately decided to separate the MMR vaccine and it did make us feel better at the time.  We watched for any sign of anything in the babies.  We worried and worried.  Nothing happened.  If our kids are not exactly “right”, it’s certainly not because of those vaccines.


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