Today, I'm going to tell you the truth about vaccines. We're going to discuss how do vaccines work? I'll discuss their role in public health. I'll talk about the side effects of vaccinations, and I'll answer the question, do vaccines cause autism? At the end of this article, I'm going to give you the number one side effect of vaccines.
As a physician, most of my patients do get vaccines and they get vaccines for their children. But I do have some patients who boldly announce that they do not want vaccines, they are not getting vaccines and they do not get vaccines for their children. Today, I'm going to talk about why is that? Why is there so much controversy over vaccines?
Much of the controversy over vaccines is due to the fear of what vaccines might cause. But why isn't there a greater fear of the debilitating and potentially fatal diseases, which vaccines definitely prevent? Well, why aren't people afraid of the boogeymen? Because they've never seen them. Same thing. For a lot of the diseases which vaccines have prevented. And in some cases completely eradicated. Well, many of us, especially in developed countries have never seen these diseases. And so, it's difficult to fear what you don't see, but let's talk about some of the diseases that vaccines do prevent or have eradicated.
What Diseases Do Vaccines Prevent?
Smallpox was a devastating infection, which killed almost 80% of the children infected. And in the 1950s, over 50 million people were infected with smallpox each year. Well thanks to vaccines, smallpox has now been eradicated. You don't see it anymore.
According to the Journal of Pathology measles killed 7 to 8 million children each year. And this was prior to the measles vaccine. We don't see deaths like that anymore.
Polio is the infection, which paralyzed President FDR. And, in the 1940s and the 1950s, it either paralyzed or killed over 1/2 a million people worldwide each year. This was prior to the polio vaccination. Now, you don't see polio at all, in developed countries. So though there may be controversy about vaccines. The one thing that is not controversial is that vaccines do prevent infections and they do prevent deaths.
How Do Vaccines Work?
So let's talk. Let's talk about the truth about vaccines. First off, how do vaccines work? Well, they work with your immune system. So your immune system is the system that protects your body against infection. It's like your army of soldiers.
Every day, there are viruses, bacteria when other potential infections, which try to invade your body, they try to attack you, but your immune system protects you. Your immune system consists of white blood cells and other components, which act like your soldiers. So let's use a virus as an example.
When a virus tries to attack your body, you have a first line of defense, your innate immune system, white blood cells called phagocytes attack the virus. They attack anything. They don't have to have ever seen it before. All they have to know is that it doesn't belong. And these phagocytes just jump out there and they are attacking back on site. So when a virus tries to attack your body, these phagocytes go attack it and engulf it, and eat it just like Pac-Man. They do this indiscriminately.
As these phagocytes attack the viruses, they go back and they gather up the other soldiers, the other white blood cells, the T-cells, the B-cells, and they show these other white blood cells, a part of the virus so that they can begin to recognize. So now these other white blood cells, the T-cells, the B-cells are like the other soldiers. And now they are able to armor up. They're able to get whatever kind of defense or weapons they need to fight the virus specifically, you have a different type of T-cell soldiers that attack. And then you have the B-cells and the B-cells produce antibody.
These antibodies attach themselves to the viruses or to the attackers of your body. And then it's a setup. They set the viruses up to be destroyed by other soldiers, other white blood cells, other parts of the immune system. It's a beautiful defense. Your body's army, the immune system.
You have the innate immune system, which attacks invaders indiscriminately. And then you have the B-cells, and the T-cells, which become more specific or they are an adaptive immunity or acquired immunity, meaning that they develop immunity to specific viruses. They recognize them.
As your body's soldiers are in this warfighting. You may experience fever, swelling, sneezing, or coughing and all of these things let you know that your immune system is working. It's a great defense. The problem is that it often takes days or even a week for your body to mount this response. So what happens? If you're a person who is immunocompromised or you have a weak immune system, or if the viruses have just gotten a jump start on you and they've invaded and attack too much sometimes you may lose the battle and get either extremely ill or you may not even make it. You could die.
In the cases when you get over an infection, when you win, once your body's soldiers, all of the white blood cells, the antibodies, the cytokines, once they have won the good fight, then they can relax a little bit. But in your immune system, you develop memory cells. Now, the memory cells are kind of some 'petty soldiers'. They're petty because they don't forgive. And they don't forget. Your memory cells after you've been exposed to a specific virus may lay dormant but if that virus ever tries to invade your body again, the memory cells are ready and your body is able to mount a response very quickly. So quickly, that if you are exposed to the same virus a second time, you may not even get sick. You may not even know that you've been exposed because now those memory cells and that acquired immunity have protected you quickly.
How Can Vaccines Help?
So what does all of this have to do with vaccines? Well, what vaccines do is they provide somewhat of a shortcut. They get your body to the point where it's able to mount an immune response and you're able to have antibodies and memory cells, but the vaccines do it in such a way that you don't actually have to get sick.
How so? What the vaccines do is they present a cousin of a virus, for example. So in a vaccine, your body is introduced to a virus, but it may be a 'dead' virus, or it may be a very weakened virus, even if it's alive. So it's just enough to get your body soldiers revved up and ready to defend, but it's not enough to make you very sick. Therefore, it's something like a test run.
When you get a vaccination, you don't get sick or you certainly don't get very sick, but if you ever actually get presented with the actual virus, the real thing, well you already have your memory cells and you were able to make antibodies and you're able to protect yourself without ever getting very sick and certainly without having the same potentially fatal complications. So, a vaccine allows you to develop immunity without all of the risks of getting actually ill from the real infection.
The History of Vaccines
Edward Jenner and Smallpox
Now, let's talk briefly about the history of vaccines. Edward Jenner is credited for creating the first vaccine in 1796. The vaccine was to smallpox that same devastating disease, which killed Pharaohs, devastated whole communities, whole empires, and it even killed five kings. Smallpox among other things would cause very large blisters on its victims. And it will leave disfiguring pockmarks. Well, there was a similar illness in cows called cowpox.
Now cowpox would cause blisters, but the disease was not devastating and it did not kill. Edward Jenner noted that milkmaids who were exposed to cowpox from the cows they milked would get blisters on their hands, blisters on their arms, but then they would never, ever get smallpox.
So what he did was he took the materials from cowpox and he inoculated, or he put them in his gardener's eight-year-old son, and then he allowed the gardener's son to get sick. After the gardener's son healed from the cowpox infection, Edward Jenner then introduced him to smallpox. He literally put smallpox in this child's body. And guess what? The child did not get sick.
So Edward Jenner realized that if he were to give you a smaller or less virulent form of an infection, it could allow you to build immunity so that you would never get the more frightening or potentially fatal infection. Hence, the first vaccination to smallpox.
Insufflation and Variolation
Edward Jenner is credited with developing the first vaccine, but actually the concept was already developed as early as 1022 AD in China, and in India, there were procedures called insufflation and variolation. With insufflation, healers would actually get scabs from Smallpox lesions, grind them up, and create a type of powder. And then they would blow that powder into the nostrils of people who had not been infected by smallpox. And in many cases, those people would not develop smallpox. They would become immune.
With variolation, it's a similar concept. Healers would get scabs or pus material from smallpox lesions and allow them to somehow become less virulent or less infectious. And then they would take the skin of people who had not been infected with smallpox, cut that skin, and put the weaker smallpox material in those lesions. And then those people too would become immune to smallpox.
Of course, there was always a chance that those people would actually get smallpox as well. But the chances of them getting smallpox was much less from the variolation procedure than it was from actually being exposed to smallpox directly.
Types of Vaccines
Live Vaccines or Attenuated Vaccines
Now, back to more modern-day vaccines, you have different types. You have the live or attenuated vaccines where alive but weakened virus or bacterium is injected into a patient such as the MMR or measles, mumps, and rubella. And also the chickenpox vaccine. These are 'live'.
Inactivated or Dead Vaccinations
Then you have inactivated or dead vaccinations such as pertussis or whooping cough. There's also toxoid vaccinations where you have a substance or a poison from a certain pathogen, which is injected. And now we have some new technology such as messenger RNA vaccinations, which are being studied in the production of COVID-19 or coronavirus vaccines.
In part two, I will get into the controversy of vaccines. I'll talk about autism as relates to vaccinations, and I'll discuss the side effects of vaccinations.
Vaccine Debate and Controversy Continues
So now I've talked about all of the wonderful aspects of vaccines. They are able to cleverly trick your immune system and to build a defense without you actually having to get sick, and vaccines are responsible for saving millions upon millions upon millions of lives by preventing and even eradicating some devastating infections. So why is there so much controversy? Well, there are a few things. One major concern, one major question, is do vaccines cause autism? Fortunately, this question has an answer, but let me give you some history.
Do Vaccines Cause Autism?
There was a study published by "The Lancet" back in 1998 and, in that study, there were 12 children who had received the MMR or the measles, mumps, rubella vaccination.
The physicians who wrote this paper said that nine of these children developed autism and that the parents of eight of these children believed that autism was caused by the MMR vaccination. Now, mind you, there were only 12 patients in this paper because you can't even call it a study.
Subsequently, there have been multiple, multiple studies performed, which show no correlation between the measles, mumps, rubella vaccination, and autism. And, as opposed to these 12 children in this one study, in the subsequent studies, there have been hundreds of thousands of patients, and there has been no correlation.
Lancet Retracts Article
In addition, there were 12 authors to that "Lancet" study in 1998, which said that MMR caused autism. 10 of the scientists who wrote this paper withdrew their statements.
They said that they were mistaken, that the study was flawed and that the MMR vaccination does not cause autism. One of the 12 scientists was not able to be contacted before the other 10 withdrew. And then there was one physician, one lone physician, who stands by his word and said that MMR caused autism. Well, there was an investigation that found that this one lone scientist, who stands by his word that the MMR vaccine caused autism, he committed fraud. He actually changed the data.
He changed the parents' answers. He even changed information, which makes it questionable if all of these children actually had autism. He completely committed fraud, and "The Lancet" later declared that the study, this 1998 study, was a fraudulent study.
In addition, more studies were done. There have since been over 18 studies on three different continents, and all of them reveal that there is no correlation between MMR vaccine and autism. So there is no data to support that vaccines cause autism. That's the data. That's the science.
Side Effects Of Vaccines
The other controversy surrounding vaccines, side effects. And yes, vaccines can have side effects as can all medical treatments. So let's talk about that MMR vaccine, again, as far as the side effects.
Well, 10% of children who get the MMR vaccine will have a fever, 5% will have a mild rash, 0.001% will have a serious allergic reaction, 0.0001% of boys will get orchitis, or an inflammation of the testicles. That's scary, but again it's 0.0001%.
And then you have 0.0001% of children who will develop encephalitis. So yes, there are some side effects to vaccines but, in most developed countries and with our modern medicine, by far the majority of children who receive vaccines will do well.
And, when you look at those numbers that I just gave you for the potential side effects of MMR, and then you compare it to the fact that, prior to the MMR vaccination, seven to eight million children were dying every year, you can balance the risk-to-benefit ratio for yourself.
The Truth About Vaccines
So what's the truth about vaccines? They save lives, they prevent infections, they do not cause autism, and they do have some side effects.
I told you, at the beginning of this article, that I would tell you the number one side effect of vaccines. The number one side effect? Vaccines prevent deaths from infectious disease.
Please comment below and let me know your feelings or your experiences with the vaccines. I'm anxious for you to be a part of this ongoing conversation.