Should parents be required to vaccinate their children? It’s a question that has spurred debate among families and within the health community in recent years. By age 2, most children will have received almost 30 vaccinations designed to boost defenses against disease, however an increasing number opt against vaccination. Proponents say vaccinations are incredibly valuable in disease prevention and control, while those against them cite a parent’s right to choose as well as fear over an increased risk of developing severe allergic reactions, or worse – possible life-threatening side effects. Elaine C. and Michael T., two seniors from International School of Beijing (ISB), evaluate the issue.
Elaine, Taiwan, has been in Beijing for five years
Vaccines may not entirely prevent a child from contracting a disease, but they do greatly reduce the likelihood of a disease outbreak. In a 2008 measles outbreak in San Diego, an unvaccinated 7-year-old infected 11 other unvaccinated children, according to the US’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of the 11 children, three were too young for vaccines and most of the remaining children had parents who requested legal personal-belief exemptions from vaccines. This outbreak cost the public sector over USD 10,000 for each case, for a total of over USD 100,000.
Parents have a responsibility to keep their children healthy, but as members of society, they also have a responsibility not to harm the well being of their communities. Choosing not to vaccinate a child can cause the child to contract a disease, which can then cause other children to contract it. This cycle could have financial repercussions to the community as a whole. Additionally, if parents do not have insurance, the cost of treatment has to come out of their own pockets.
Many parents fear that vaccines may cause autism. This claim traces back to a 1998 study by British doctor Andrew Wakefield. The journal which published the study later retracted it, claiming it to be “utterly false,” and Britain’s General Medical Council revoked Wakefield’s medical license. Today, the CDC also says that there is no link between vaccinations and autism.
Some may believe this claim against vaccines because they have heard anecdotes, or some may have personally met children who were coincidentally both autistic and vaccinated. However, the original basis for this claim was false, and scientific evidence today supports that conclusion.
Doctors vow to never harm their patients. If they advise parents to vaccinate their children, they are thinking in the best interest of the children. If the child is too young or has a condition that would conflict with the vaccine, the doctor would say so. There are, of course, cases of negligent doctors, but those are the minority and in no way represent the entire community of doctors and researchers who aim to keep people healthy.
Some may also think that vaccines breed stronger viruses. This is not true. There have been instances where antibiotics breed stronger bacteria, but vaccinations only boost a person’s immunity, they are merely preventative. In fact, vaccinations can prevent infections which antibiotics would be needed to treat.
Vaccinations should be required, for the safety of individuals, communities, and future generations.
Michael, Canada, has been in Beijing for two years
Despite the many benefits of vaccinations, the case for leaving children unvaccinated is appealing to more and more parents due to concerns arising from the side effects of vaccines. However, a distinction must first be made between the valid and invalid concerns over vaccinations. As mentioned by Elaine, concerns that vaccinations lead to autism or that it is safer for children to be naturally exposed to viruses are unfounded, and thus should not be considered in parents’ decision to vaccinate their children. There is, however, one primary concern that may make parents have second thoughts about vaccinating their children: the possibility of unnecessary risk of adverse and potentially life-threatening side effects. Although the probabilities of this occurrence from vaccines are usually very slim, parents may judge whether the risk outweighs the benefit of a given vaccination.
Take for example the use of Gardasil, a vaccination that aids in preventing certain strains of the Human Pappillomavirus (HPV). According to The Journal of the American Medical Association, Gardasil has resulted in over 12,000 reports of adverse side effects including fainting and nausea between 2006 and 2008. Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC have claimed that they have not identified a causal relationship between the vaccine and the adverse events. However, in most instances of these reports, they have not been able to identify any cause for the events either. Even though these 12,000 reports equate to just 0.0005 percent of the 23 million individuals who received injections of Gardasil, it is not uncommon for parents to fear that their children may fall into one of 12,000.
Although misinformation may play a large role in the decision not to vaccinate children, the idea of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” is another main reason that parents may choose to avoid vaccinations for their children. Though a holistic approach to vaccines may show that the advantages outweigh the dangers, the lingering psychological effect that could arise from knowing that a vaccine intended to prevent harm can do the opposite, may prove too daunting for some parents.
International School of Beijing
10 Anhua Jie, Shunyi District, (5149 2345, email@example.com)
For general information about vaccines and immunizations, including news, Q&As, fact sheets, and to learn more about some of the myths and facts of vaccination, visit The World Health Organization’s (WHO) website.
The World Health Organization is headquartered in Geneva and made up of more than 7,000 people working in 150 country offices. The primary role of the WHO is to direct and coordinate international health within the United Nations’ system. Their main areas of work are health systems, promoting health through the life-course, non-communicable diseases, communicable diseases, corporate services, preparedness, and surveillance and response.
This article originally appeared on page 38-39 of the beijingkids September 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Courtesy of ISB