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Take a moment and think back to elementary school.  Try to remember what you did when your mother told you it was time to go to the doctor’s office.

If you’re anything like me, you may have tried hiding under the table, thinking you wouldn’t be found. And why is it that kids everywhere hate going to the doctor? Shots.

Not the two ounces of liquid courage that college kids over 21 drink before heading out for the night, but rather the kind that are stuck in your arm by a nurse, who tells you to relax and look the other way.

These “shots” are more formally known as vaccinations, or immunizations.  Very simply, they are small portions of liquid that contain pieces of the bugs that make us sick.

A vaccination is essentially an injection of a small, recognizable bit of the bacteria or virus into the body. The person’s immune system recognizes the bugs and builds up defensive mechanisms in case they are ever exposed to them again. In this way, they are able to prevent you from being infected with these diseases effectively.

Currently, there are vaccines on the market that fight against many of the worst childhood diseases, as well as those diseases that have historically causes the greatest loss of life.

These vaccines are widely distributed, cheaply made and mandated for admittance into elementary school in the United States.

In recent years, many effective new vaccines have been discovered, including the seasonal flu vaccine. The new standard for adolescents and young adults include additional vaccines like meningitis and HPV.  Meningitis vaccines are often prerequisites for on-campus housing at most colleges and universities, including here at the University.

Such requirements are in order to avoid one infected student creating a small-scale epidemic, as disease easily spreads in close quarters like college residence halls. The term often used by medical professionals to rationalize vaccinations is “herd immunity,” which means that if enough of a population becomes immune to a particular disease, the disease is essentially eradicated, as there is no way for it to pass from person to person. This is why it is so critical that the majority, or all, of the population get their shots.   Not only do vaccinations protect people against disease, but they lessen the threat to those around them.

You might wonder why people choose not to get vaccinated when there are so many apparent benefits.  Some individuals cannot receive particular vaccines due to an egg allergy or sensitivity, as many vaccines are grown inside eggs.

There are some who claim that they cannot receive immunizations because of their religious beliefs, but few religions have such restrictions, and no major religion mentions vaccination in their canon law or scripture.

This issue was recently thrust into the national spotlight when a Texas mega-church, Eagle Mountain International Church, saw at least 21 of its members, including a four-month-old infant, contract measles.

Kenneth Copeland, the televangelist who ran the ministry, fostered an environment described by former member Amy Arden: “To get a vaccine would have been viewed by me and my friends and my peers as an act of fear—that you doubted God would keep you safe, you doubted God would keep you healthy.  We simply didn’t do it.”

This kind of “faith healing” has gained national attention because the parents who chose to treat their children with prayer are being prosecuted with criminal negligence if and when their children die due to lack of treatment.Even with the questionable legitimacy of religious reasoning for non-vaccination, the number of parents refusing vaccination is on the rise. This trend baffles many in the world of immunology, but most attribute it to celebrities and “frauds” that campaign against vaccination. One of the main arguments of the vaccine resistance movement is that vaccines “cause” autism in children.  This “connection” is the product of what is, at best, shady science by British researcher Andrew Wakefield.

In 1998, Wakefield published a paper that presented evidence of a correlation between the use of the MMR vaccine and childhood autism. By 2002, however, no one had been able to replicate his data. The British General Medical Council began an investigation that concluded in 2010 and charged Wakefield with dishonesty, and the abuse of developmentally disabled children. Wakefield’s work was described by the GMC as a “[failure] in his duties as a responsible consultant,” and resulted in both the loss of his medical license and the retraction of his publication.

Unfortunately, celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. continue to champion his cause, holding Wakefield as a martyr. McCarthy, of Playboy and “The View” fame, has an 11-year-old son, Evan, who was diagnosed with autism and,  since that diagnosis, she has made many claims about autism and varied “miracle cures.”

Worse than the fact that someone with public standing would make such outlandish claims, a 2011 study found that 24 percent of parents put some credence in her ideas.

“Vaccination has long elicited objections based on fear and misinformation,” says Arthur Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU-Langone Medical Center. “Andrew Wakefield scared many parents by finding a link between vaccination and autism—a finding that he ultimately had to withdraw and for which he lost his medical license.  Celebrities like Jenny McCarthy have pushed their own unsubstantiated theories about the harms that vaccines cause using their media prominence to put babies and children at grave risk of death and disability.  The track record concerning vaccines is clear.  While no medical intervention is without risk, including aspirin and oxygen, vaccines have been the single most powerful tool in battling disease and disability, after the provision of clean water.”

Despite those who argue against it, vaccinations will contribute enormously towards improved global health, and for every naysayer like Jenny McCarthy, there are those who are working to push us forward.  For example, gentlemen, HPV vaccines are primarily indicated for the prevention of cervical cancer in young women, but by receiving the vaccine yourself, you can help keep the women you love healthy, in addition to lowering your own chances for several nasty forms of cancer.

And if those few moments of discomfort that you dreaded as a child can save you from future pain and suffering, as well as potentially save the lives of those around you, isn’t that a worthy cause?

 

 

 

 

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