It shocked me when I learned that Wakefield's single, small sample sized study caused an estimated 12% drop in the vaccination rate among children. Hundreds of thousands of parents believed the anecdotal evidence of one physician (and their countless friends who repeated the findings of the study as fact) above the adamant assurances of most of the rest of the medical community, and thousands of children were put at risk because of (repeatedly disproven) fears about mercury-based preservatives in vaccines. It was believed that the medical profession was lying to parents about the true risks of these vaccinations, and that the government was in league.
There is so much irony in this controversy. Seemingly, those who quickly jumped on the anti-vaccine bandwagon didn't bother to do even the most rudimentary search to reveal that no mercury-based preservatives have been used in regular childhood vaccines in eight years (and most for much longer), or that multiple similar studies were unable to confirm or even approximate Wakefield's findings. Parents who believed they were protecting their children from the risks of developing autism hung on word of mouth tales of seemingly normal children who, after their first or second round of vaccinations, suddenly developed symptoms pertaining to the autism spectrum. They didn't bother to read that these symptoms emerge in vaccinated and unvaccinated children alike at the age where social skills are emerging and difficulties with those social skills become evident, which is at the same age where some vaccines are recommended. The link between the two is coincidental, not causal.
I see the desperate need to blame as being the driving force behind these controversies. An imperfect child must have been damaged, as the genes of the parents couldn't possibly be the culprit. The diagnosis of autism must be crushing to parents, but especially those who have placed all of their hopes on the future of their child. Again and again I've seen in parents my age the same desire to have children who are the fulfillment of their lifelong quest to matter, children who are the answer to the unsatisfying career, or the tarnished dream to change the world. Children who must be raised in the most progressive, the most correct, the most expensive way, because then, and only then, will the parent feel as though they have succeeded. And what would a disability do to those parents? Would it mean they have failed? That they chose poorly for their child?
Viv has been vaccinated. She was vaccinated because I couldn't find even one shred of evidence, in all my reading of the scientific journals, that vaccines cause anything more than a mild fever in almost all children. There are, of course, rare instances of life-threatening reactions to vaccines, usually because of an allergy to an ingredient, but these instances are so few and far between that I could only find a few single case studies detailing them.
Children with suppressed immunity cannot be vaccinated, because live virus strains can fatally infect their defenseless systems. Therefore, to keep infections such as measles from coming into contact with children who cannot fight them their own, our child, like other healthy children, has been given the vaccine to create herd immunity.
We will continue to vaccinate our daughter. I believe it is our responsibility to protect our children as well as the children who cannot protect themselves.
Mark, I'm expecting to hear from you about this one.