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How Necessary Are Vaccines Anyway?

While there may be some controversy about the safety and necessity of vaccines, ask yourself what would happen if all vaccinations were stopped? The answer would be diseases that were once common, but are now rarer would return to cause injuries and death. Knowing how vaccines have made a difference in reducing early mortality highlights the importance of getting vaccinations.

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7 Autism and Vaccines

There is a lot of misinformation that vaccines cause autism. Scientists don't know all the causes of autism, but there are many causes they suspect strongly contribute to the condition. Vaccination is not one of the causes of autism. Some causes of autism, according to current knowledge, are genetic problems and environmental factors. Studies of people with autism have found abnormalities in many regions of the autistic brain. This suggests autism results from disruption of fetal brain development. The evidence is that children with autism have abnormal brain growth patterns in the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain connected with social, communication, and cognitive development. Initially, this part in children with autism grows faster and larger than non-autistic children. Later in development, when non-autistic brains should be bigger and better organized, prefrontal cortexes of autistic children grow more slowly.

Environmental factors may play some part in autism. There have been some studies to suggest air pollution is part of the puzzle with exposure to toxins. Pesticides may also help to cause autism. Other factors are the advanced parental age at the time of conception, premature birth, low birth weight, maternal obesity that can cause diabetes, and any birth difficulty leading to moments of prenatal oxygen deprivation to the brain.

Autism may be related to lack of folate and other nutrients in a pregnant women's diet. It is important to have a healthy diet and take prenatal vitamins if you doctor or health care provider advises that you take a supplement. While it is uncertain that vitamin deficiency is linked to autism, it does not hurt to get enough folate (found in enriched bread and enriched orange juice) because folate helps to prevent spina bifida in developing babies. Given the complex nature of how autism develops, it is critical that all women have regular access to prenatal and post-birth care to get good advice about diet and other factors affecting their developing babies.

6 Thimerosal

Many critics of vaccination have pointed to thimerosal, a form of mercury, as the culprit for autism. However, the critics confuse thimerosal, a generally safe form of mercury, with a dangerous type. Moreover, critics fail to understand why thimerosal is necessary for vaccines. There are two types of mercury, methylmercury and ethylmercury. Methylmercury is a toxin. It can accumulate to toxic levels in fish and it can then accumulate in humans who eat fish, causing irreversible brain damage. However, methylmercury has not been correlated with autism and autistic behaviors, although it can cause blindness and other neurologically based problems.

Thimerosal is a naturally occurring mercury-containing compound that breaks down into two substances of ethylmercury and thiosalicylate. These two substances are easily eliminated through bowel movements and urine. In other words, thimerosal does not stay long enough in the body to cause the damage of accumulating methylmercury.

The reason thimerosal, a non-accumulative mercury, is used in vaccines and other medicines is its usefulness as a preservative in preventing bacteria and fungi growth. This form of mercury is used in vaccines, immune globulin preparations, anti-venins (for example, anti-snake venom), skin tests for allergies, and eye and nasal products. Without thimerosal, bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, bacteria that cause illness and death, would grow in medicine. Having thimerosal in vaccines is not only safe, it is often essential. 

5 Possible Vaccine Side Effects/ Contraindications

Vaccinations are generally safe but, as with any medication or medical procedure, there can be side effects. Frequent side effects include pain, swelling, and redness at the injection sites, mild fever, shivering, headache, muscle and joint pain. Irritability, drowsiness, and rash may also occur. Giving acetaminophen at vaccination or shortly afterward may moderate these side effects. Rarer side effects are anaphylactic shock, fainting, and or other issues depending on the vaccine.

Some side effects come from additives that trigger uncommon allergies. Trace amounts of antibiotics such as neomycin found in varicella (chickenpox), measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), trivalent inactivated poliovirus (IPV) vaccines have been considered possible causes of adverse reactions. Only a history of anaphylactic reaction to neomycin should contradict immunization with these vaccines. A normal local reaction of pain, swelling, and redness where the injection is given is not a reason to skip vaccination.

Gelatin, used as a stabilizer in some live-virus vaccines such as varicella and MMR, might cause a reaction. Children who have a history of egg allergy may be able to have the MMR vaccine, even though it is derived from chick embryo tissue. However, the flu vaccine should not be given to people with a history of egg allergy.

Stronger side effects do not occur very often and should not discourage you from getting vaccinations for yourself and your child unless you know you have allergies to specific components in vaccines. If you or your child have an adverse reaction, contact your health care provider immediately and report the reaction to the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) that tracks adverse vaccine reactions. 

4 Measles, Mumps, Rubella

The fear of vaccine side effects should not stop you from getting vaccines or having your child vaccinated. The diseases prevented through vaccination can be worse than vaccine side effects. One of the most critical vaccinations is the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) shot. Measles, mumps, and rubella are injurious and sometimes fatal diseases that spread easily through air droplets from sneezing or coughing.

Measles is called rubeola or red measles because of the characteristic red rash that can spread across the body. Other symptoms of red measles are a runny nose, cough, inflamed eyes, sore throat, and fever. These symptoms may seem mild but serious complications of red measles are pneumonia (infection of the lungs) and encephalitis (swelling of the brain).

One of out every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia and it is the most common cause of death from measles in young children. About one of every 1,000 children with measles will develop encephalitis, and have convulsions that may lead to deafness or cognitive disability. For every child who has measles, one or two will die from the disease's complications. Measles can affect developing fetuses and cause premature birth and low birth weight.

Mumps, the second disease prevented by the MMR vaccination, causes headaches, fever, tiredness, muscle aches, and loss of appetite. The signature symptom of mumps is swollen and tender salivary gland under the ears on one or both sides. Complications of mumps include meningitis (inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges), encephalitis, deafness, and orchitis (inflammation of the testicles, often causing sterility).

The last, rubella, was called “German measles,” but is now referred to as “three-day measles” because symptoms last two or three days. Rubella usually causes a rash that begins on the face and spreads to the rest of the body accompanied by a low fever of fewer than 101 degrees. Older children and adults may have swollen glands and symptoms like a cold before the rash appears. Aching joints are common, especially for young women.

Some people, about half, may not experience symptoms. The disease, while it seems mild, can have devastating consequences for developing babies. Complications include microcephaly (abnormally small head), growth retardation, cataracts, glaucoma, microphthalmia (abnormally small eyes), heart malformations, hearing loss including deafness, and mental retardation. Diabetes is a common effect of rubella because the disease gradually destroys the fetal pancreas.

3 TDAP

The TDAP is a vaccine that prevents three diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. All three of these diseases can be very injurious and lethal. Tetanus, often called lockjaw, is a bacterial infection that causes often lethal muscle spasms. The disease is not communicable, meaning you cannot get it from another person. The disease is transmitted through bacteria that lives in soil, dust and manure. You can get the disease from even the tiniest scratch although you are more likely to get it through deep puncture wounds such as stepping on a nail.

There is no cure for tetanus other than waiting for the tetanus toxin to go and managing symptoms. 10% to 20% of tetanus victims will die. Symptoms of tetanus poisoning include spasms and stiffness in the jaw muscles, stiffness of the neck muscles, difficulty swallowing, stiffness in the abdominal muscles, and painful body spasms triggered by minor events such as a draft of air, loud noise, physical touch, or light.

The second part of the TDAP is diphtheria. Diphtheria is a disease where bacteria are spread through air droplets, attaches to the lining of the respiratory system and destroys healthy tissue. The dead tissue forms a gray membrane covering tissues in the nose and throat, making it hard to breathe and swallow. The diphtheria toxin can also get into the bloodstream and cause damage to the kidneys, nerves, and heart.

The last part of the TDAP is pertussis. Like diphtheria, it is an airborne disease. It causes the thick accumulation of mucus in the respiratory system and makes it difficult to breathe. It can be a fatal disease, especially for babies and young children. Before the TDAP vaccination, the United States averaged around 500 to 600 cases of tetanus, 100,000—200,000 cases of diphtheria, and 175,000 cases of pertussis. 

2 Eradicable Diseases

Many vaccine-preventable diseases are slowed through universal vaccination or what is called herd or community immunity. Herd immunity means that if all people in a population have vaccines, the virus or bacteria cannot spread. If people refuse to get vaccines, they are then carriers of the diseases and can spread the viruses or bacteria.

Refusing vaccination without good medical reasons is being a health threat to the community. This does not mean every trace of bacteria or viruses will be eradicated except for very specific conditions. Eradicating a virus requires that it have one antigenic type. An antigenic type is a disease that has only one form. Measles and smallpox fit into this category. Bacteria do not because many have different forms such as the tuberculosis bacterium. An eradicable virus must also have no carrier state. Eradicable viruses usually cause diseases with symptoms. This is critical because people who do not show symptoms can pass along diseases without others knowing of the infection.

1 No Justifications

Vaccinations are readily available through health care providers and through some pharmacies. Many pharmacies take health insurance plans. If cost is an issue for your child, financial help is available through the Vaccines for Children program (VFC) or through Medicaid.

Considering the deadly nature of vaccine-preventable diseases, there are no excuses and many good reasons to get vaccinations to protect you and your children. 

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