Vaccines are not foolproof

Recent concerns about the spread of pertussis on the island have been intermixed with contradictory and misleading information about the decision many families make regarding whether to vaccinate against this and other diseases.

In the first article (July 2) citing 11 cases on the island, Dr. Robert Wagner was quoted as saying that the pertussis vaccine works “75 to 80 percent of the time.” (The National Vaccine Information Center websites gives an efficacy range of 59 to 90 percent.)

A July 12 article then states that “people who are fully vaccinated don’t have to worry about keeping away from public places,” and “vaccinations provide true disease prevention.” Although there have been a couple examples given of unvaccinated people contracting the disease, nowhere is it stated that all those who have contracted pertussis were unvaccinated. I’m assuming this is because there were likely vaccinated individuals who ended up with pertussis as well.

When parents are deciding whether or not to vaccinate their children, and on what timetable to do so, there are a number of factors to be considered besides the risk of autism or other health complications, of which there are many. As indicated in the July 16 staff editorial, some diseases for which vaccines are available can be very serious in young children, including pertussis.

However, children are recommended to receive an increasing number of vaccines for which they may not even be at risk (Hepatitis B) or for which they would obtain greater benefit by contracting the disease, along with lifetime immunity, as a child (chicken pox) than the risk they take in delaying exposure until adulthood. No vaccine gives lifetime immunity and no vaccine is 100 percent effective or safe.

In addition to concerns about efficacy, other concerns many parents have include the use of aborted fetal tissue or the tissue of other animals to culture the disease for use in vaccines. There is also the question of just how much testing really happens prior to release of a vaccine, and to what extent drug companies drive “medical advances.” The recent Gardasil vaccine is a good example of this. As of January 2008, there had already been eight deaths and 28 miscarriages linked to the use of this vaccine. Though it is advertised to protect against cervical cancer, it contains only four of the over 100 strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer or STDs. It is recommended for all 12- to-13-year-old girls, regardless of their sexual activity.

The flu vaccine is another one that is recommended annually, yet only protects against three or four strains which may or may not be prevalent that year. Imagine the money that can be made from mass inoculations with no guarantee of effectiveness and limited liability when problems occur.

This topic is far too involved for the space here, but suffice to say that while vaccines serve a purpose, they are not foolproof and they are not without risks. This newspaper should provide a more balanced treatment of the topic and families should educate themselves before taking the next shot.

Shelly Brinlee

lives in Oak Harbor.

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