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As the weather warms up, flowers start to bloom, and allergies kick in (sigh), it’s fair to say that the flu season is (pretty much) behind us. However, it’s important to understand the financial cost of each flu season.
I got an email from someone at FrugalDad (http://frugaldad.com) with a link to an infographic that very clearly lays out the costs of preventing/treating the flu. What stuck out to me was the pretty significant difference in cost between vaccination versus enduring a bout of the flu and all the costs that can come with it. Bottom line: vaccination not only saves you a lot of the physical agony that can come with suffering from the flu, but it can save you a lot of money as well.
On May 14, 1796, Edward Jenner tested his hypothesis that inoculation with cowpox can confer immunity against smallpox. The success of this experiment earned him the title, “Father of Immunology” and set the stage for the development of new vaccines.
On February 28, 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a paper in the prestigious journal The Lancet that would have significant public health ramifications. In his paper, he and his colleagues claimed that the measles mumps rubella (MMR) vaccine was linked with an increased incidence of bowel disease and autism among children.
These represent perhaps two of the most important dates in the history of vaccines. One that heralded the start of the age of vaccination. The other that appeared to herald the end of the public’s trust in vaccinations.
In the time since Jenner’s discovery, there has always been some underlying concern about vaccines as the vaccines themselves and the regimens in which they were included changed. The advent of thiomersal (thimerosal in the U.S.), an ethyl mercury-based preservative that was introduced in the 1930s, and the increase in the number of vaccines provided at certain points during infancy and early childhood have both been believed to be linked to the increase in the number of cases of autism. Yet it was Wakefield’s paper that seemed to provide confirmation that the MMR vaccine, and perhaps vaccines in general, were somehow responsible.
Fast-forward 12 years almost to the day, The Lancet paper that had spurred a passionate movement against childhood vaccinations was retracted. In the years leading up to the retraction, Dr. Wakefield had experienced a dramatic fall from grace, as evidence emerged that the data for the study was obtained under deceptive and unethical grounds, where the children involved were subjected to unnecessarily invasive procedures. His medical license was ultimately revoked.
Autism cases have been increasing, but the link to vaccines has not been independently verified in follow-up trials after the controversial Wakefield study. While the reason for the increase is not known, it is likely that it is probably more a function of our understanding of autism symptoms than a true increase. Even after thiomersal was removed from most vaccines (except influenza) and some have moved away from vaccinating their children, cases continue to rise. Yet people continue to vocally support Wakefield’s research despite the fact that it was discredited, believing that he was still a hero, exposing the “evils” of vaccination. Celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, whose own son is autistic, continue to champion the cost even at grave public health risk. She and then-boyfriend Jim Carrey released this statement in light of the retraction. There is still a feeling of “us” versus “them” where “them” refers to the pharmaceutical companies who produce the vaccines. It is understandable that parents of autistic children would want to pin the blame on someone or something, but once that something that seemed so irrefutable is taken away, it is difficult for them to deal with that reality. However, when people like McCarthy continue to peddle this false evidence and perpetuate false notions, there are far greater dangers that lie ahead.
As the anti-vaccination movement gained speed among parents, the incidence of measles, mumps, and rubella increased nationwide when, previously, there had been few if any cases reported. Now, clusters are becoming increasingly prevalent among infants all over the U.S., some leading to death. These are deaths that could have been easily prevented had parents chosen to vaccinate their children. Instead, they felt that the supposed risk of autism outweighed any benefit of vaccinations.
The retraction was over a year ago, and the effects are still being felt today. Unfortunately, the retraction came too late, and thousands of well-meaning parents have already been duped and set events into motion that have brought about the rise of previously preventable illnesses. With respect to the rise in autism cases, rather than continuing to point fingers and hold tightly to theories that have been soundly discredited, our energies should be devoted to understanding the condition, possible causes (verified by sound research), and potential safe therapies. In the meantime, continued efforts need to be made to educate the public about the benefits of vaccination. The risks of choosing not to vaccinate are, infinitely more dangerous than the risks of vaccination.