We should know that vaccine-preventable diseases were rarely mild, natural immunity comes at a cost, and that those who died from smallpox, diphtheria, measles, and polio aren’t around to talk about their experiences on Facebook (survivorship bias).
We should never forget that vaccine-preventable diseases were once big killers, and the only reason some folks have grown to fear the side effects of vaccines more than the diseases they prevent, is because we don’t see those diseases very much any more. If more people skip or delay getting vaccinated, we will though.
Not surprisingly, there are no benefits to skipping or delaying your child’s vaccines, but there are plenty of risks.
What Are the Risks of Delaying Vaccines?
Of course, the biggest risk of delaying your child’s vaccines is that they will get a disease that they could have been vaccinated and protected against.
“In 1989, the Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine was relatively new and not yet routine. I was aware of the vaccine’s availability, but, busy mom that I was, I had not yet made the trip to the health department to get the immunization for my two-year-old daughter, Sarah. I will always regret that bit of procrastination and the anguish that it caused.”
It is true that the risk may be very small for a disease like polio, which is close to being eradicated worldwide, but it is not zero.
Consider that the last case of polio occurred in 2005, when an unvaccinated 22-year-old U.S. college student became infected with polio vaccine virus while traveling to Costa Rica in a university-sponsored study-abroad program.
So you might not get wild polio unless you visit specific regions of Afghanistan or Pakistan, but you might want to be concerned about vaccine-associated polio if you go to a country that is still giving the oral polio vaccine.
And the risk is certainly much higher than zero for most other vaccine-preventable diseases, as we see from the regular outbreaks of measles, mumps, and pertussis, etc.
Some studies even suggest that delaying your child’s vaccines puts them at more risk for side effects once you do start to get caught up!
“…in the second year of life, delay of the first MMR vaccine until 16 months of age or older resulted in an IRR for seizures in the 7 to 10 days after vaccination that was 3 times greater than if administration of MMR vaccine occurred on time.”
Hambridge et al on Timely Versus Delayed Early Childhood Vaccination and Seizures
It is not uncommon to hear about parents having ‘panic attacks’ over the idea of vaccinating their kids.
“…many parents are inundated with horror stories of vaccine dangers, all designed to eat away at them emotionally while the medical and scientific communities have mounted their characteristic response by sharing the facts, the data, and all of the reliable peer-reviewed and well-cited research to show that vaccines are safe and effective.”
Federman on Understanding Vaccines: A Public Imperative
“…recognizes the importance of examples—testimonials and stories—that are the lifeblood of vaccine-hesitant beliefs.”
Nathan Rodriguez on Vaccine-Hesitant Justifications
Vaccine injury stories aren’t new though.
These types of anecdotal stories were very popular when folks used to think that the DPT vaccine was causing a lot of side effects. It wasn’t though. And it was soon proven that the DPT vaccine didn’t cause SIDS, encephalitis, non-febrile seizures, and many other things it was supposed to have caused.
“Anecdotes – about a new miracle cure, a drug that is not being made available on the NHS, or the side effects of treatment, or some environmental hazard – sell product. Data, on the other hand, which take us towards the truth about these things, are less popular. Anecdotes, however many times they are multiplied, do not point the way to reliable knowledge. As the aphorism says, “The plural of anecdote is not data”.”
Raymond Tallis on Anecdotes, data and the curse of the media case study.
That anecdotes “sell” better than data may be one reason why you see them so often on anti-vaccine websites. Another is that they simply don’t have any good data to use as evidence!
Are Vaccine Injury Stories True?
Vaccines are not 100% safe, so there is no doubt that some vaccine injury stories are true.
There is also no doubt that what many people perceive to be vaccine injuries have actually been proven to not be caused by vaccines, from allergies and eczema to autism and MS.
“In the absence of a specific etiology for ASDs, and a tendency among parents of children with a disability to feel a strong sense of guilt, it is not surprising that parents attempt to form their own explanations for the disorder in order to cope with the diagnosis.”
Mercer et al on Parental perspectives on the causes of an autism spectrum disorder in their children
Also keep in mind that in addition to the many so-called vaccine induced diseases, there are many historical vaccine injury stories that have been shown to be untrue:
Johnnie Kinnear supposedly began having seizures 7 hours after getting a DPT vaccine, when he was 14-months-old, but medical records actually shown that his seizures started 5 months after he received his vaccines
Dravet syndrome now explains many severe seizures associated with vaccinations
And at least one of Wakefield’s own followers – a mother who claimed that the MMR vaccine caused her son’s autism, was “dismissed as a manipulative liar” by a court in the UK.
Vaccine Injury Stories are Dangerous
Do vaccine injury stories have a purpose? They might help a parent cope with a diagnosis in the short term, but vaccine injury stories are dangerous in so many ways.
We have seen how they create anxiety for many parents, which can scare them away from vaccinating and protecting their kids from life-threatening vaccine-preventable diseases.
What else can they do?
They can certainly build up mistrust towards pediatricians and other health professionals. That is one way that the anti-vaccine movement continues to hurt autistic families. They also can lead parents to think that their “vaccine injured” child is “damaged” in some way.
And they push parents towards dangerous, unproven, unnecessary, and expensive alternative treatments. It shouldn’t be a surprise that many of the sites and forums that push vaccine injury stories also promote a lot of dangerous advice.
So far this year, there have only been 11 cases of wild polio in the world – 6 in Afghanistan and 5 in Pakistan.
“In 1952 alone, nearly 60,000 children were infected with the virus; thousands were paralyzed, and more than 3,000 died.”
Jason Beaubien on Wiping Out Polio: How The U.S. Snuffed Out A Killer
Robin Cavendish was born and raised in the pre-vaccine era though, before we had the polio vaccines that have controlled, and will hopefully soon eradicate, polio.
Who Is Robin Cavendish?
Robin Francis Cavendish was born on March 12, 1930 in Middleton, Derbyshire, England.
After an early career in the Army, he helped start a tea-brokering business in Africa and made frequent trips to Kenya.
It was in Kenya that he developed paralytic polio in December 1958, just over three years after Jonas Salk‘s polio vaccine was found to be effective in field trials (April 1955).
Although he was initially given just three months to live after his diagnosis, with the help of his wife Diana, he was able to survive for another 36 years!
And they did a lot with those years, including:
using a specially adapted van to travel around England
developing a wheelchair with a built-in respirator with their friend, Oxford professor Teddy Hall and his company Littlemore Scientific Engineering. Their first prototype of their portable respirator was released in 1962 – the Cavendish Chair.
helping scientists develop the Possum, a device that helped severely disabled people electronically control their environment, including answer the phone or turn on the TV
becoming an advocate for other polio survivors
co-founding the charity Refresh with Dr. Geoffrey Spencer, which started as a way for families who needed extra help because of the need for a respirator to go on vacation together
The story of his remarkable life is told in the new movie Breathe.
And while it is also a great reminder of what life was like before we had vaccines, we shouldn’t forget about all of the other polio survivors, some of whom now have to deal with post-polio syndrome.
Nor the fact that we are so close to ending polio. Or at least new polio infections.
What to Know About Robin Cavendish
Robin Cavendish was a respirator dependent polio survivor whose life story is told in the new movie Breathe.