In a June 13 My Turn guest column titled “Not so fast on vaccinations,” anti-vaccine activist Dawn Winkler made inaccurate claims, understating the benefits of vaccines and overstating their risks.
The author describes measles as “beneficial.” But measles complications include death, deafness, encephalitis and pneumonia, as well as, rarely, SSPE, only caused by the wild measles virus, in which the virus resurfaces after years and slowly destroys your brain. It’s always fatal.
We can now prevent this death and suffering. The author opposes that.
The MMR vaccine confers long-term immunity against measles for most. So do the hepatitis B, rubella, and the hepatitis A vaccines. It’s true that not all vaccines do. Just like not all diseases are the same — not all vaccines are. Our pertussis vaccine, for example, does not provide long-term immunity: nor does the disease. The tetanus vaccine confers years of immunity. Natural tetanus infection does not.
The author claims that most pertussis is in the vaccinated. In absolute numbers, more vaccinated individuals do contract pertussis. It’s hardly surprising, since most children are vaccinated. However, the unvaccinated are more at risk: Studies show that rates of pertussis are much higher in the unvaccinated — 9-23 times higher.
Vaccine safety is extensively studied. So is vaccine effectiveness. That’s how we know that vaccines do not cause autism, allergies or autoimmune conditions generally. A 2013 Institute of Medicine Report examined the evidence and concluded: “Upon reviewing stakeholder concerns and scientific literature regarding the entire childhood immunization schedule, the IOM committee finds no evidence that the schedule is unsafe.” It also rejected claims that vaccines cause autism, allergies and similar problems.
The list of 86 peer-reviewed studies the author mentions was shown to include studies that have nothing to do with vaccines, that do not support a link between vaccines and autism, or that are fatally flawed.
If the author did indeed spend hours reading medical literature, I would urge her to get instruction in reading it, since her conclusions fly in the face of the scientific consensus. I could spend hours reading my computer’s manual, but I would not assume I know how to tinker with its insides better than an expert. The human body is more complicated, not less.
Reading a list of ingredients of anything can be frightening. But claiming vaccines are poison ignores two important facts: how tiny the amounts of the ingredients in vaccines are, and the fact that we are already exposed to them naturally — our bodies were designed to deal with them.
Each ingredient in vaccines is there for a purpose, carefully thought out, and in small amounts that do not create a risk.
Nothing is 100 percent risk free. But the diseases we vaccinate against carry real risks; in contrast, serious problems from modern vaccines are extremely rare.
I love my child, so I vaccinate my child. If it also protects other children whose parents refuse to vaccinate because of misinformation like that in Ms. Winkler’s oped, all the better.
Dorit Reiss is a Fremont, Calif., resident and a law professor at UC Hastings College of the Law.