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How People Agree and Disagree About Vaccinating Children

Updated on April 3, 2016

Sources Synthesized

Getting several immunizations during childhood can be traumatizing, but is it possible that vaccinations have detrimental side effects that could harm a child’s health and quality of life? When it comes to the health and safety of a loved one, especially a child, it is controversial whether the vaccinations a child receives has enough benefits to outweigh the risk of some adverse side effects. While there is a large majority of parents in the United States that do choose to have their children vaccinated, others delay or refuse the recommended vaccinations overall due to safety concerns (Glanz 1). This “vaccine hesitancy”, or the apprehension about the decision to vaccinate one’s self or children, can be due to many factors including the risk of side effects, personal beliefs, and even social media influences (Kumar 1). Some sources agree that vaccines are safe and a crucial advancement in medicine, while others believe the risk of adverse side effects is too high. There are many different perspectives regarding vaccine hesitancy, the possible side effects of being vaccinated, and possible side effects of not being vaccinated.

Many sources address the topic of vaccine hesitancy such as what it means, the causes of it, and why it can have good intentions, but ultimately be bad. According to Opel, vaccine hesitancy among parents is one of the most frustrating situations a pediatrician faces (Opel 526). In fact, most pediatricians even respond to parents who refuse to vaccinate their children by refusing to care for their children altogether, and may even contact child protective services due to the parent’s refusal (Opel 526). Likewise, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy agrees that the most important message he can give to parents is to by all means get their children vaccinated (Bernstein 1). While he does acknowledge the fact that the apprehensions parents have stem from only wanting to protect their children, he bluntly states that the science behind the immunizations has been tested and proven safe (Bernstein 1).

There are many causes of vaccine hesitancy such as social norms and values, media, vaccine safety perception and knowledge, income, past experiences, and many others (Kumar 3). Even some photographs, like one of a baby doll with a large number of syringes stuck in it to depict how many shots a child receives before they are two years old, can sway a parent to become vaccine-hesitant (Vanderhoff). Relating to media, Guidry agrees with Kumar and says that the social media platform, Pinterest, has information about vaccinations, most of which relating to persuasive anti-vaccination views (Guidry 5051). Relating to income and education, Bakalar also agrees with Kumar and discusses a survey done in California that concluded people with higher incomes and education are more likely to exempt their children from vaccinations (Bakalar 1). Eve Dubé, one of the authors of an article in the Vaccine journal, concurs that social factors play a role in the decision-making process of vaccinating their children, but also adds that other factors such as emotional, spiritual, cultural, and political have an influence as well (Dubé 4191). Professor Elizabeth Miller goes even further to describe how most concerns about vaccines side effects arise as a result of an association made between the administration of a vaccine and the development of a rare disease that has an unknown cause (Miller 2). However, Miller disagrees with Murthy on the point that it is legitimate to have safety concerns because of the fact that immunizations differ from other forms of medicine in that healthy children are receiving shots to prevent diseases that do not pose a threat anymore (Miller 2).

Vaccine hesitancy could be a positive or negative mindset to have according to several sources. This could be a positive viewpoint to have because it is what the physicians consider as well, such as when they are testing the vaccines to see if there is any possibility of short-term or long-term side effects (Glanz 6). If anything, if a parent supports anti-vaccination, this could mean they are wanting more information about childhood vaccinations and want to keep their children away from anything that would even have the smallest chance of hurting them or causing long-term problems (Campbell 1). In opposition, according to Stein, some locations that joined the anti-vaccination movement ended up having polio cases reported in areas that were originally declared disease-free (Stein 515). Opel agrees with Stein in saying that an unvaccinated child not only is at risk for contracting deadly diseases but also poses a threat to the community as well (Opel 528). According to Stein, overall, vaccine hesitancy is very dangerous and not worth it (Stein 516). While vaccinations, like any other kind of medical intervention, may have some risks, the health benefits to the child and everyone around the child greatly outweigh the risk of dealing with adverse side effects (Stein 516). Most sources have similar views about vaccine hesitancy, in that there should be no second-guessing among parents whether or not to vaccinate their children.

The underlying cause of the fear that parents have about vaccinating their children, as previously stated, is the risk of side effects that could do permanent damage to a child’s health. One of the most well-known and common concerns for vaccine-hesitant parents is the fear of their child developing autism as a result of being immunized. A study was published that said there was a link between certain vaccinations and autism, but the article was eventually retracted because there were countless discrepancies about the study (Stein 515). Kumar adds to this by saying that it has been scientifically disproven that developing autism is in any way associated with vaccinations (Kumar 5). Miller also acknowledges that studies have been conducted that show no signs of autism onset after an alleged causative vaccination; however, she notes that there are still parents who refuse to accept that evidence (Miller 2). While autism might not be related to vaccinations, a journal article from the American Journal of Preventative Medicine stated that although some adverse events after receiving immunizations are coincidental, there are true reactions (Chen 364).

During the swine flu pandemic of 2009-2010, all the people of Sweden were encouraged to get vaccinated with Pandemrix, an influenza vaccine (Lundgren 107). However, a very serious and unanticipated side effect, narcolepsy, effected over 200 children and young adults; this article suggests that it is for reasons like this that people develop fears about vaccinations (Lundgren 107). This is similar to the situation Tafuri describes, in relation to vaccine hesitancy being caused by rare cases side effects reported after vaccination. Some people even go as far as claiming that childhood immunizations can put their children at risk for death. A source from the Expert Review of Vaccines journal states that anti-vaccination movements are due to certain events that have occurred in recent years; for example, in 2014 there were several deaths recorded after a flu vaccination (Tafuri 626). Although it was proven that the deaths were not due to the Fluad flu immunization and it was proven safe, this still caused a panic among people and an increase of vaccine hesitancy (Tafuri 626). All of these sources recognize that there are always risks when it comes to getting childhood vaccinations, but the next section will address what is at risk when children are not vaccinated.

On the other end of the spectrum, if parents ultimately refuse to have their children vaccinated, they have to be aware of the possible consequences. Many sources claim that unvaccinated children are then at high risk of contracting deadly diseases and passing it on to others around them. For example, Miller explains a situation of a measles outbreak that happened in San Diego in which the initial case that caused the outbreak was a child who was intentionally not vaccinated and had traveled abroad and consequently contracted the disease (Miller 2). The disease was then spread to other individuals who were unvaccinated as well (Miller 3). Stein agrees with this and adds another example by explaining how leaders in Nigeria had urged parents to not have their children immunized, and these refusals resulted in polio cases reported in areas where the disease had originally been declared eradicated (Stein 515). Stein also goes on to talk about several other instances when unvaccinated children have become infected, and even killed, by infectious diseases (Stein 516).

Some sources explain a concept known as the herd effect, which is when there is a large percentage of people who are vaccinated against a disease, which then protects people who were not vaccinated from that disease (Van Vlaenderen 2). Van Vlaenderen says that high-risk groups, which include the elderly, children less than two years, and people with chronic medical conditions, are people who cannot easily be protected by vaccinations (Van Vlaenderen 2). For this reason, these at-risk people can be indirectly protected by the high percentage of people who are protected by vaccinations; this point is similar to one made by Stein who agrees that this is one of the only ways unvaccinated individuals can be protected (Stein 516). Stein elaborates on this by stating that when a large percentage of people are immunized, this slows down the movement of pathogen throughout the entire population (Stein 516). Although the points made by Van Vlaenderen and Stein say that the unvaccinated population can be protected by the herd effect, no other sources mention protection that can come from not being vaccinated.

This information explained every aspect of vaccine hesitancy, the possible side effects of receiving vaccinations, and the consequences of parents refusing to have their children vaccinated. All of this connects to the overall controversy of whether or not to have children vaccinated with all vaccinations in the childhood recommended immunization schedule. In order to broaden the information included in this paper, it might be beneficial to do more research on sources that are strictly anti-vaccination in order to include more blatantly contrasting views.

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