To Your Health: An open letter about vaccinations

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 6:00am

Dear Ms. Z,

You have embarked on what may be the toughest and yet most rewarding job the world has ever known: being a mom. It was a pleasure to sit and talk with you today in the clinic about the pros and cons regarding vaccination. I could see a familiar concern in your eyes. I’ve sat and talked to many mothers in the same seat as you, and have a mother of my own that holds that same, natural concern for their child  — the concern that nobody has a right to tell you how to take care of your child. And I agree with all my heart. Even today, in my adult life, when I tell my mother I’ve got the sniffles, she gets wide-eyed and gives me a laundry list of unproven cold remedies that I follow every single time. I write this letter to continue our dialogue and offer these thoughts while also offering respect for your decisions.

I think it may be helpful to suggest care with what we read on the internet. I’ve read the varying opinions and forums that promote keeping children un-vaccinated. Many times the articles have authors with MD or DO titles. Many of them claim that vaccines may have side effects such as brain inflammation or autism but they make these claims without scientific evidence. These articles often use similar strategies of rhetorical questioning such as: “Why should I be the mother who risks vaccination for my son or daughter?” And, “Why do drug companies that promote vaccines and the federal government seem to be working together?” The articles correlate vaccination to bad outcomes and theories of why this may happen. The authors appeal to motherly concern but offer little in the way of solid science.

Here is a good example:

Dr. Wakefield was the first to pioneer the connection between autism and vaccines. He produced a study connecting the two in 1998 then retracted that same study in 2010. Why? Dr. Wakefield falsified data and lost his license as a physician. Unfortunately, the waves he created continue, which is why bad science can be so dangerous. Below is a link to the CNN investigative report on the matter titled: “Retracted autism study an 'elaborate fraud,' British journal finds.” Also included below is a link to the Center for Disease Control website on the MMR vaccine and a 2013 follow-up peer-reviewed study that puts this issue to rest.

What have vaccines done for the individual and the world? The World Health Organization estimated that in 1967 smallpox alone killed 15 million people in the world. Today smallpox has been eradicated — thanks to a vaccine. In 1980 the WHO publicly announced this victory:

Having considered the development and results of the global program on smallpox eradication initiated by WHO in 1958 and intensified since 1967… Declares solemnly that the world and its peoples have won freedom from smallpox, which was a most devastating disease sweeping in epidemic form through many countries since earliest time, leaving death, blindness and disfigurement in its wake and which only a decade ago was rampant in Africa, Asia and South America.

The graphic seen below is from the CDC and Forbes magazine and shows how vaccines have changed our world. (Morbidity is defined as the rate of disease.)

Having your child contract any of these terrible and potentially fatal diseases when they are wholly preventable would be a tragedy. Up to now children in the U.S. who go unvaccinated are somewhat protected from contracting these life-threatening illnesses because all the other children are vaccinated. This is the phenomenon of “herd immunity.” There is less of the offending organism or virus around because others are vaccinated. This will, and is, changing as more and more children go unvaccinated, increasing the risk of exposure. Recently, a small community in the suburbs of New York, where failure to vaccinate is popular, experienced a dramatic outbreak of 18 cases of measles in children. These types of outbreaks will increase and carry with them the same devastating consequences that were seen in earlier years before vaccinations.

If there is something worth trusting, I would recommend it be the good science that is already out there. When evaluating information, it’s important to look at the source, at the citations, the journal that information is coming from, and the process of the research. Skepticism is heathy. We do better never to accept something blindly. In fact, skepticism is what makes a scientist a good one. So I urge you to challenge me — and we can sit down and sift through all of your concerns together.

Medical content edited by Mark Clark, MD, Medical Director, Block Island Medical Center.

Center of Disease Control (CDC) website on safety concerns with vaccination and autism:

Stefano et al. Increasing Exposure to Antibody-Stimulating Proteins and Polysaccharides in Vaccines Is Not Associated with Risk of Autism, 2012, Journal of Pediatrics:

Vaccine Infographic Courtesy of the CDC, January 2011:

Retracted autism study an 'elaborate fraud,' British journal finds." CNN Health, 5 Jan. 2011: