The Vaccine Controversy

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,"
Spock, Star Trek: Into the Darkness, Paramount Pictures
This year, April 12th will mark the 59th anniversary of the day the polio vaccine, created by Jonas Salk, was reported as a success to the world. And while we’ve previously detailed Salk’s exploits here, the topic of vaccinations has recently inflamed the public. If you're not aware, a vaccine is essentially a primer or booster for your immune system, consisting of attenuated or recombinant forms of a microbe. This allows your body to develop long term memory and immunity against the target. In addition, herd immunity can limit or slow the spread of pathogenic diseases if enough individuals are vaccinated. Thus, even unvaccinated individuals (like the immunocompromised) may be protected, as they have decreased chances of encountering the disease.

...a different kind of herd immunity.
The very first vaccine made was created by Edward Jenner to counteract smallpox in 1798. He injected patients with cowpox, which causes a relatively benign infection in humans. An epitope of the cowpox virus cross-protected people from the much more deadly smallpox. Ever since then, we’ve generated many vaccines, protecting humanity from several diseases and preventing countless deaths.
Even in the 1800s, there was resistance to the idea of a vaccine. The comic (by James Gillray) and its caption reads "The Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation!"
In rare cases, some individuals may develop a reaction to a vaccine. For example, four or five people out of a million experienced a negative reaction to the N1H1 vaccine1. However, a disturbing trend has emerged recently. Diseases which we normally consider to be near eradication have experienced sudden pockets of outbreaks. In 2010, whooping cough cases suddenly sprang up in California. In 2013 and 2014, there were clusters of new measles cases in New York and California. Last year, Pakistan experienced a serious polio outbreak when the Taliban prevented vaccinations, claiming it was a plot by the West to sterilize the population.
The Council on Foreign Relations created a handy web tool (linked below) denoting reported cases of vaccine-preventable diseases. While the amount of cases in less-developed countries might be expected, many cases are springing up in well-developed nations, where vaccines are readily accessible.
  This website shows preventable diseases (by vaccination) as different colors. Circle sizes correspond to the relative number of cases in each incident. Check the link for full details:
Misinformation regarding vaccines isn’t restricted to other nations. Here in the United States, many individuals have become outspoken against vaccines. In fact, some believe vaccines are responsible for the development of autism in their children. Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a paper in the Lancet in 1998 that claimed the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine could be directly linked to autism development in children. However, his paper was retracted in 2010 when a British medical board found Wakefield violated basic research ethics and showed a "callous disregard" for the children in his research. And, a journalist found that part of his funding was provided by lawyers for parents seeking to sue vaccine makers for damages2.

Obtained from Public Health England.
Since then, the Center for Disease Control, the Mayo Clinic, and several other scientific reviews have come out and stated that there is no evidence for causation between vaccinations and autism. In fact, a recent study suggests autism may actually begin in utero3. It is important to stem the tide of misinformation and change the public perception on vaccinations. If we don't, we open the door for a variety of diseases to make a comeback.

Don't let those diseases back in!
If you want to learn more, there are a few references below which might interest you. If you have any comments, feel free to contact us here.
  1. Why the Controversy? Vaccines Save Lives
  2. Dr. Wakefield’s Retraction
  3. Autism In Utero
  4. Big Data Crushes Anti-Vaccination Movement
  5. The CDC’s Stance on Vaccines and Autism

Just when I thought I got the hang of science...
Contributed by Ken Lau, PhD.
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