The Vaccination Myth

Vaccinations

Vaccinations

In the wake of the recent measles outbeak in Disneyland, California I thought we should write a  post on vaccinations for children. I am grateful to Tom Stocky, the first in my circle of friends who publicly made an effort to understand why many educated parents have elected to not vaccinate their children. The responses to his post have been hugely educational for me and I’m sharing what I’ve learnt below.

This post has several citations at the end to make sure those of you who want to read more can go to the source materials. I hope it helps those sitting on the fence on vaccinations make the right decision.

UK Vaccinations

Right from the day your child arrives you wiill have to take decisions that will impact her long term wellbeing. In the UK this involves the following immunisation schedule provided by the NHS, shown below (1).

@ Birth:

  • Injection of Vitamin K (not a vaccine, but still optional for parents to provide)

@ 8-weeks:

  • Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Whooping Cough (DTaP) Vaccine;
  • Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV);
  • Haemophilus Influenzae (Hib) Vaccine; and
  • Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV).

@12-weeks:

  • Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Whooping Cough (DTaP) Vaccine;
  • Inactivated Polio Vaccine(IPV);
  • Haemophilus Influenzae (Hib) Vaccine; and
  • Meningococcal C (Men C) Vaccine.

@16-weeks:

  • Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Whooping Cough (DTaP) Vaccine;
  • Inactivated Polio Vaccine(IPV);
  • Haemophilus Influenzae (Hib) Vaccine;
  • Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV); and
  • Meningococcal C (Men C) Vaccine.

@12-months:

  • Haemophilus Influenzae (Hib) Vaccine; and
  • Meningococcal C (Men C) Vaccine.

@13-months:

  • Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) Vaccine; and
  • Meningococcal C (Men C) Vaccine.

@3-years, 4-months (40-months):

  • Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Whooping Cough (DTaP) Vaccine;
  • Inactivated Polio Vaccine(IPV) pre-school booster; and
  • Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) Vaccine.

@12-13-years (girls only):

  • Human Papilloma Vaccine (HPV) – 3 doses over 6-months.

@13-18-years:

  • low dose Diphtheria, Tetanus (dT) Vaccine; and
  • Inactivated Polio Vaccine(IPV) pre-school booster.

In addition some babies may need Hepatitis B and BCG vaccines. The BCG vaccine is offered immediately after birth to babies who are more likely to come in contact with people with TB, for example when parents/grandparents come from countries with high rates of TB. You can download the NHS leaflet on BCG here.

NHS does not offer the Chickenpox (Varicella) vaccine to all children, but you can get your child vaccinated in a private clinic – roughly £40/shot, with two shots given 4-8 weeks apart (2).

Why Vaccinate?

1. The direct benefit from vaccinations is protecting your child from a disease when they are exposed to someone with the bug.

2. All vaccines have risks and benefits. Below is an example prepared by Tom for the MMR vaccine.

If vaccinated a child may have the following side effects:

  • 17% temporary fever
  • 5% temporary mild rash
  • 1% temporary swelling of glands in cheek/neck
  • 0.003% seizure caused by fever
  • 0.003% temporary low platelet count (potential bleeding disorder)
  • <0.00001% serious allergic reaction

On the other hand, if not vaccinated, there’s a 90% chance of contracting measles if exposed. For children under 5, here are the risks if you get measles:

  • 10% ear infection (potential permanent hearing loss)
  • 10% diarrhoea
  • 5% pneumonia (most common cause of death from measles)
  • 0.15% death
  • 0.1% encephalitis (potential deafness or mental retardation)
  • 0.01% death 7-10 years later from SSPE

Children not vaccinated by MMR are exposed to much more severe repercussions than if they had been vaccinated. To me this feels likes a no-brainer.

3. The bigger social benefit of vaccination comes when chains of infection are disrupted by large numbers of the population that have been vaccinated against the disease. Essentially the vaccinated individuals protect sections of society that cannot be vaccinated such as organ transplant recipients, those with immune disorders, or those with egg allergies (5). This is called herd immunity, the link allows you to read more about it. So if you live in a society where almost everyone is immunised, the likelihood of your not immunised child contracting the disease is low because she is would rarely be exposed to anyone with the disease  However that is not a good reason to not vaccinate your child, because if more parents do the same, herd immunity fails because too few children are now vaccinated and then you get an outbreak like the one at Disneyland.

The Autism Myth

In 1998 Andrew Wakefield, a British former surgeon, published what is now widely proved to be a fraudulent paper that linked the MMR vaccine to autism. In 2004 a Sunday Times reporter also discovered, undisclosed financial conflicts of interest (He was paid to conduct the study by solicitors representing parents who believed their children had been harmed by MMR). Later in 2009, Sunday Times also uncovered that Wakefield had “changed and misreported results”. A more recent coverage of this was done by CNN – watch here. As a result of his study immunisation rates fell from 92% to 73% (50% in some parts of London) and the anti-vaccine movement was born.

Advocates of the anti-vaccine movement say the presence of thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative) in vaccines is linked to the increase in autism (ASD) diagnosis in the 1990s, because administration of vaccines also increased during the period. By 2002 thimerosal was completely removed from all vaccines, with the exception of some flu vaccines. Autism rates have however continued to rise – a powerful proof that there is no link between the two (8).

If you still believe that vaccinations is the cause of autism, Penn and Teller tell you in their loud and fun style why you should still vaccinate your child – Penn and Teller on Vaccinations. If you don’t read anything else, just watch the video.

How are we doing in UK?

As I was writing this I thought it was important to know what decisions parents are taking here in UK. These are sample stats for 2012-13 (7):

  • 94.7% one-year olds were vaccinated against Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Polio and Haemophilus influenzae type b (DTaP/IPV/Hib). This is only slightly below the WHO target of 95%. However in London, this drops further to 91%, with vaccinations in some boroughs dropping even further to <80%.
  • 92.3% two-year olds were vaccinated against Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR). The WHO target for MMR is also 95%. In London, again vaccinations drop to 87%, with 8 boroughs having vaccination rates below 85%.
  • 91.5% of five-year olds had received the combined Hib/MenC booster;

To get specific information on your area or information on other vaccinations you can read the full report here. Look at the maps provided page 30 onwards for specific information.

The Chickenpox (Varicella) Virus

Until last month I hadn’t realised that a chickenpox vaccine existed. I was excited, it would be lovely for my daughter to escape it, I still have a couple scars from the time I had them. They are bloody itchy! However, the vaccine, available since 1995, is not part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme, which makes me cautious. Unlike the other vaccinations the choice isn’t as clear with this one.

  • The NHS recommends two doses of the vaccine and estimates it offer 98% protection from chickenpox in children and 75% protection in adolescents and adults (9).
  • A 2002 CDC study (10) suggests that only those who have recovered from natural chickenpox disease can have lifelong immunity from it. This means that mass vaccinations against chickenpox could cause a mass outbreak of shingles/chickenpox in the future. So the chickenpox vaccine only gives temporary immunity and leaves children vulnerable to disease later in life when complications from chickenpox can be much more serious. This also the reason NHS cites for not providing a childhood vaccination programme (11).
  • On the other side having recovered from natural chickenpox as a child does not necessarily protect you from shingles, which is a much more painful disease caused by the same virus.

My husband and I are still deciding on this one, so if you have any other interesting facts that would help us decide, we’d love to hear from you.

I’d also like to give credit to the following people, most of whom I don’t personally know, for sharing the information they did in response to Tom’s post – Tudor Bosman, Ken Deeter, Anne Marie Lauranzon, Matt Dohm.


1. Taken from the NHS red book
2. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/pages/chickenpox-vaccine.aspx
3. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/side-effects.htm
4. http://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/complications.html
5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herd_immunity
6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Wakefield#Fraud_and_conflict_of_interest_allegations
7. http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB11665
8. http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/reference/vaccines-and-autism/
9. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/chickenpox/Pages/Introduction.aspx
10. http://www.nvic.org/vaccines-and-diseases/Chickenpox/chickenpoxfacts.aspx
11. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/pages/chickenpox-vaccine-questions-answers.aspx

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