The benefits and risks of vaccinations are disputed among doctors, parents, and health administrators. This sample health essay explores the pros and cons of vaccines, as well as scientific data explaining their neccessity.
Protecting childhood from diseases through vaccination
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that:
“diseases that can be prevented with vaccines can be very serious – even deadly – especially for infants and young children.”
What are the specific diseases that childhood vaccines were developed to prevent, and what happens if children are not vaccinated against them? Whooping cough, or pertussis, is one such disease, and more than 28,000 cases were reported to the CDC in 2014 (CDC). Whooping cough can be fatal for young babies, and especially babies younger than three months of age. Another disease that has seen a resurgence in the United States since the vaccination debate began is measles (2015).
Over 150 cases have been reported this year, most of them due to a measles outbreak in California’s Disneyland (CDC). Measles is extremely contagious and can cause pneumonia, encephalitis or swelling of the brain, and even death in some cases; this disease is common in other parts of the world and is brought to the United States by unvaccinated travelers (CDC). Among the other diseases that are preventable by vaccine are:
- Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib)
- Hepatitis A and B
- Pneumococcal disease
- Rubella or German measles
- Tetanus or lockjaw
- Varicella of chickenpox
The CDC noted:
“even though the United States experiences outbreaks of some vaccine-preventable diseases, the spread of disease usually slows or stops because most people are vaccinated or immune; if vaccinations stop, the cases could spread much more rapidly and become an epidemic.”
According to the CDC, less than one percent of parents do not vaccinate their children at all; however many do not receive all vaccinations. Health insurance plans, the Vaccine for Children (VFC) program, and Medicaid usually offer free vaccinations for children under the age of 19 (CDC).
Number of children vaccinated in the U.S.
Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent stated that parents who do not vaccinate their children because of autism fears are on the “wrong side” of the vaccination debate (CNN). CNN reported that 95 percent of United States kindergarten children have been vaccinated for measles, mumps, and rubella, but the numbers vary depending on the state in which those children reside (Levs).
For instance, only 82 percent of Coloradans kindergartens have had their second rubella dose (necessary to prevent the disease), and in Mississippi 99.7 of kindergartners are vaccinated (Levs). 26 states have not reported meeting the required government 95 percent coverage goal for rubella, however (Levs). Out of the 50 United States, 20 allow philosophical vaccine exemptions (vaccines are usually required by law), and 48 allow religious exemptions (Levs).
The problem with not vaccinating children, according to the CDC, is that a community of people who don’t vaccine their children could end up being the source of a large outbreak or epidemic if they live close to each other (as cited in Levs). Medically-necessary vaccine exemptions are rare, but for some children, the risk of a vaccine to their health may be more intense than the contraction of a disease (Levs). To illustrate this, during the 2013-2014 school year, Florida had 800 medical exemptions and 4,000 religious exemptions; California had 1,000 medical exemptions, and 17,000 philosophical exemptions (Levs).
Parents’ reasons for failure to vaccinate their children
There are many reasons why a parent may refuse vaccines for a child or children, among them religious preferences, philosophical preferences, misinformation, or a belief that vaccines might harm their children. According to the U.S. Public Health Service:
- 70 percent of these parents believe that vaccines protect their children from diseases and are necessary
- 63 percent fear serious side effects57 percent have autism spectrum disorder concerns
- 57 percent have autism spectrum disorder concerns
- 78 percent believe children are subjected to too many shots
- 33 percent have a significant distrust of the medical community
Vaccination and socioeconomics within the U.S.
On average, the families of children who are unvaccinated are wealthier than those who are vaccinated with four times the poverty level for income; they are non-Hispanic white; married, English-speaking couples who hold college degrees; and they are covered by private health insurance in most cases (Levs). This means that children whose family income is at or below the poverty level are more likely to be vaccinated; this may mean that the wealthy elite are putting the poor and the wealthy at risk for diseases through their choice not to vaccinate their children.
Vaccination benefits and childhood diseases
The benefits of childhood vaccines are evident with a quick look at the history books; many diseases have all but been eradicated in the United States since vaccine inception (Mayo Clinic). Scientists have even made ground with an Ebola vaccine. Diseases nearly eradicated include:
- Whooping cough
- Deadly strains of influenza
Some people believe that natural immunity is better than a series of vaccinations, and according to the Mayo Clinic this may be true; but leaving disease fighting to natural immunity will inevitably result in death at times. For instance, varicella or chickenpox can lead to complications such as pneumonia; Hib could result in permanent brain damage; polio could cause permanent paralysis; and mumps could lead to deafness in our children.
Vaccines and disease complication control
Thus, the main benefit of vaccines is not just the prevention of the initial disease, but also the prevention of potentially serious or even fatal complications that may be associated with them (Mayo Clinic). The beliefs of people who vaccinate their children are called “herd immunity”; if the vaccination rate is high, the vaccinated people protect people who are not vaccinated because they cannot be carriers of the disease (Corum, Keller, Park, and Tse).
To maintain this herd immunity over a long period of time, children must be vaccinated frequently and very early – also, both doses of measles must be taken to ensure complete vaccination (Corum, et al.). There is much debate over a since-retracted historical study that linked autism spectrum disorder to childhood vaccines; that study has been retracted and it is certain that vaccines do not cause autism (Mayo Clinic). The fact that autism signs appear near the times when children are scheduled to receive vaccines is a mere coincidence (May Clinic).
Risks of vaccinating children
Vaccinations do come with some risks. Any vaccine, and as we know from numerous medicine television commercials, any medication can cause and does cause side effects of some sort (Mayo Clinic). It has been the opinion of doctors, nurses, and the general public in the past that these minor side effects, low-grade fever; soreness, redness, or swelling at the injection site; dizziness or slight headache; fatigue or loss of appetite are worth dealing with in order to prevent a much more serious disease (Mayo Clinic).
Some children can have a severe allergic reaction or a neurological side effect as a result of the vaccine, or the combination of the vaccine and medication the child is already taking (Mayo Clinic). However, these side effects are very rare, and vaccines are not given to children with known allergies to vaccine components (Mayo Clinic).
Diseases that vaccines are meant to prevent are often most deadly and devastating to sufferers when they are young – immune systems are not yet built up, and the children are much more vulnerable than adults (Mayo Clinic). This is why vaccines are distributed at such an early age, and why postponing or skipping vaccines is not recommended (Mayo Clinic).
The medical community does not mince words on the subject of vaccines; they do not feel that vaccines are something bad, but something that has been demonized through false studies and misinformation (Frontline). The outbreak in San Diego a few years prior to the Disneyland caused exposure of over 1,000 people, according to Frontline. Although the 12 reported cases were not as high as the officials of the San Diego Health Department feared, they might have been much worse had many of those exposed not been vaccinated (Frontline).
The question, then, is whether the personal and possibly false, opinions of the few predominantly wealthy, suburban, white families who do not vaccinate their children can be held responsible for the measles outbreaks and possible other outbreaks that might result from non-vaccination. If the disease was not contagious, this would not even be a question; in the United States, everyone is allowed his or her own opinion. However, exposing a neighbor’s child to a potentially deadly disease makes the problem much more complicated. Ultimately, the decision to vaccinate or not is still up to the parents, but more and more medical personnel are fighting to make vaccination law (Oshinsky).
Calandrillo, SP. “Vanishing Vaccinations: Why are so Many Americans Opting out of Vaccinating their Children?” University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform 37.2. (2004): 353-440. Print.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Protect Your Baby with Immunization.” CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015. Web. 18 November 2015.
Corum, Jonathan, Josh Keller, Haeyoun Park, and Archie Tse. “Facts About the Measles Outbreak.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 2015. Web. 18 November 2015.
Frontline. “The Vaccine War.” PBS. WGBH Educational Foundation, 2015. Web. 18 November 2015.
Levs, Josh. “The Unvaccinated, by the Numbers.” CNN. Cable News Network, 2015. Web. 18 November 2015.
Mayo Clinic. “Childhood Vaccines: Tough Questions, Straight Answers.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2015. Web. 18 November 2015.
Oshinsky, David. “The Return of the Vaccine Wars.” Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Web. 18 November 2015.