The Vaccine Controversy That Won’t Go Away

(Part 2 of 2)

In yesterday’s post I wrote a little about the current vaccine controversy in California that’s been ignited by proposed legislation. Today I’ll go into some detail about how vaccines work (or don’t), and why that matters to you.

The idea behind vaccinations is simple: you get a small dose of a disease, mild enough that you can recover from it, and then you forever have immunity against catching that disease again. It’s essentially training your immune system to recognize a particular invader, and giving it what’s needed to fight off the bug if it shows up again.

So common vaccinations, such as the one known as MMR (for measles/mumps/rubella) can actually give you a mild case of the measles, of the mumps, and of rubella (German measles)—all at the same time. As you can imagine, mild reactions to these vaccinations are common: redness, swelling, or discomfort at the injection site, mild rash; low-grade fever for a few days; etc.

For adults, who generally have more fully developed immune systems, the triple shot is generally not a problem. The vaccine controversy has arisen because these composite vaccinations are usually given to young children, who haven’t had time yet for their immune systems to develop. From time to time a child will develop a very high fever. And in a developing brain, a very high fever can cause irreversible damage. No parent wants to be the one who causes harm to their child. Hence the vaccine controversy: do you give the vaccine, and create the tiny chance that something might go wrong, or do you withhold the vaccine, and run the risk of your child coming down with a preventable disease?

As I said, the risk of an adverse event on any single vaccination is tiny. But when you put together all the recommended injections—26(!) by age 18 months—the risk gets appreciably larger. If there’s a one percent chance of any single vaccination harming a child, by the time you get through the full series that chance has risen to 22 percent.

We had our daughter fully vaccinated. But that was more than 20 years ago, and the number of recommended vaccinations has more than doubled since that time. I think if I were bringing up a child today I’d consider carefully which vaccines to administer.

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