The subject of vaccinations is a hot potato. The official line is that all children must have all of them to wipe out measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, polio, meningitis, tetanus and even flu – or at least reduce their spread considerably. It sounds like a laudable aim but is it really achievable and at what cost? As with so many of these issues it’s a question of benefit versus harm issue– and big pharma don’t have a good track record of putting safety before profits, given that it is highly profitable for the pharmaceutical giants who supply the vaccines to the health service. Unlike drugs, the marketing of vaccines is direct to the health policy makers. If they force vaccination marketing to the public is of little relevance, except to keep the lid on rumours of downsides.
In no area of medicine is denial of adverse effects more apparent. The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) is apparently completely safe despite thousands and thousands of parents who have no doubt their child’s autistic symptoms, asthma or rheumatoid arthritis started right after the vaccine. Medical journals and the press are strongly encouraged not to publish stories of vaccine damage because discouraging vaccination, they are told, will damage or kill thousands of children. Dr Andrew Wakefield, who first identified gut problems following MMR in children whose parents were convinced that the vaccine had triggered autistic-like symptoms in their children, was struck off the medical register, creating the false impression that his actual research was wrong – and that this single set of case reports is the only evidence in existence than MMR vaccinations can cause harm. Parents are cajoled into vaccinating their child, starting at the age of 2 months with the 5-in-1 Pediacel. If they don’t conform they are show horrific pictures of what could happen to their child if they don’t.
In the US children can’t go to school unless vaccinated and, in the UK, schoolchildren are now all meant to be having a flu vaccination and girls a cervical cancer vaccination. The numbers of vaccines just goes up and up. Today, in the UK children may receive as many as 37 doses of 14 vaccines by the age of two, and as many as eight vaccines in a single visit.
The United States recommends more vaccines than any country in world. The CDC (Centre for Disease Control) recommends 48 doses of 14 vaccines by age six, and 69 doses of 16 vaccines by age 18. The CDC also recommends an annual flu shot for all Americans from six months of age onwards.
Of course, this is a great money spinner for the big drug companies who make the vaccine but is it really necessary and, if so, what are the downsides? The market for pediatric vaccines across the EU, US and Japan was projected to be worth £16 billion by 2016. It already exceeds $20 billion. That buys a lot of influence. To put this in context, in the first quarter of 2010 alone, the US federal government representatives received $19 million per day from lobbyists, and over $1 billion in total lobbyist spending, a large chunk of the money coming from the health care sector.
Despite all this pressure many parents are opting out of vaccinations such as the MMR despite growing pressure to conform. Why?
I think the reason for the polarisation on the subject of vaccines is there are those that have adopted an ‘innocent unless proven guilty’ approach and will have what’s given, and those that consider vaccines ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and will have a vaccine only if it’s proven safe and necessary.
While it is fair to say there are no properly controlled trials that conclusively prove that the MMR cause autism it is also fair to say that there are no controlled trials that prove that the MMR vaccine, and others, are safe, and doesn’t increase the risk of autism, asthma or other immunological and inflammatory disorders. The vaccine was introduced into the UK in 1988 without adequate safety testing. Not one of the safety trials on the MMR ‘actively’ followed up the vaccinated children for more than six weeks, and most no longer than three weeks. The trials would not have been able to detect either rare, or long-term, side effects of the vaccine, such as autism and bowel disease. Many so-called ‘placebo’ trials with vaccines the placebos have contained other vaccine ingredients such as mercury containing Thimerosol or aluminium rather than inert placebos such as a saline solution, thus potentially disguising side-effects. Proper studies can be done if the funding and political will is there.
Even surveys of associations between incidence of disease in vaccinated and unvaccinated children are unreliable in a culture where most reports from parents of alleged diseases developing after the vaccine are ignored. Putting this bias aside large population studies suggest that the MMR is not causing the large majority of autism, but have been unable to exclude the possibility that it is causing autism in a small number of susceptible children. This means that the vaccine could be causing autism or neurological damage in up to 10% of autistic children in ......
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