My Two Cents’ Worth

From April 20 until 26, it was European Immunisation Week. If you follow me on Instagram, you were able to read my six-part series on this topic. Here, I just want to share my two cent’s worth, my personal thoughts on the topic. A hot topic that can lead to endless discussions. Nevertheless, things need to be said:

Today, an unfortunate situation has since arisen: the opponents of vaccinations are shrill and loud. Vaccine advocates, on the other hand, prefer not to talk at all about vaccine damage. At least journalists and the power of “false balance” no longer play as important a role in spreading fake information about vaccines as in the past.

I believe the approach of an individual vaccination decision of each patient is unrealistic and hence I don’t support this idea. But I am also against government-directed mandatory vaccinations. I am a firm believer in communication, education and showing real scientific evidence.

For every vaccine, one has to weigh the risk of getting an infection, and getting it seriously, against the risk of a potential damage due to a vaccination and the discomfort of the vaccination. And yes, no vaccination can protect against illness 100% but the likelihood of illness is more than significantly reduced.

I completely understand when certain immunisations are postponed or others are chosen because our global world might require adjustments for individual cases: living in one country but going back to one’s home country means different exposures and different risks and it is important to take such personal situations into account.

There are legitimate reasons not to immunise: an acute minor illness for example usually demands a postponement of 1 to 2 weeks for an immunisation. There are also medical indications not to immunise: severe allergies to any of the substances in a vaccine, or a previous serious reaction to an immunisation, for example. Certain neurological conditions require to be stabilised before an immunisation can be administered. Live vaccines should be avoided during pregnancy and are contraindicated in people with a suppressed immune system, or on medication to suppress the immune response.

Generally, the reader of anti-immunisation portals has to weigh: the reports of large clinical studies versus reports of a few patients. Ten-thousands versus a few. Surely, some diseases or changes can occur shortly after a given immunisation. That alone does not confirm a direct connection between the two.

There are many aspects of vaccine opponents that I question:

Safety:

On the same site where vaccine opponents warn about vaccinations, they often sell (at outrageous prices) scientifically unproven remedies. The quality of their information can fluctuate between dubious and dangerous. What happened to the 100% safety demand there?

Overwhelming a child’s immune system:

In a German study parents stated that the reason they had not had their child vaccinated was because they feared that the vaccination could put too much physical strain on them. Agreed, each injection is a strain on an infant. On average, infants and young children receive a total of 36 single vaccinations in the first 15 months of their life (depending on the recommended regime). With combination vaccines, the number of actual injections is 8 or 9. It would be ethically difficult to justify to give that many more if they weren’t combined. Combination vaccines no longer have serious side effects they used to. One reason is that they contain far fewer components of the pathogen or antigens than older vaccines. 

Measles:

It’s not only one of the most contagious pathogens on our planet but a person is already infectious days before the characteristic rash occurs. Which means that an infant, who cannot yet be vaccinated, could get measles without the parent knowing it was exposed to it. And they are at a particularly large risk of developing a life-threatening brain inflammation. 

Autism:

Last year, a study observing more than 657.000 children over 11 years was published in the Journal “Annals of Internal Medicine”. Vaccinated children had no increased risk of developing autism compared to unvaccinated children! This also applied to children with an increased risk, for example due to family history. Why are media not publishing these data like they did in 1998 with Andre Wakefield’s data?

Allergies, intolerances, auto-immune diseases:

Did you know that there were compulsory vaccinations in the GDR? After the reunification the vaccination rate decreased noticeably. Interestingly though, the number of allergies increased. If a vaccine triggered food intolerances, allergies, autism, shouldn’t we have seen an increase of millions of people across the world? One number should answer this doubt: the risk of developing an autoimmune disease after an immunisation is estimated at 1: 10 million. 

Incorrect numbers

In general, any possible vaccine complication that goes beyond a normal vaccination reaction must be reported according to Infection Protection Acts. If a doctor or a pharmaceutical company suspects a side effect, they must report it.

However, not all countries have a central vaccination register where complications are recorded. That means, what isn’t reported, isn’t recorded in the statistics. In some countries, for example Germany, patients themselves have been allowed to report any complication officially to the appropriate institute for a number of years. All reports are recorded in a database and then checked by scientists. And where needed cross-checks follow to get to the root of the problem. In Switzerland, the BAG (Federal Office of Health) has report forms on their website.

One-sided influenced vaccine commissions:

For many years, commission members did not have to disclose conflicts of interest. And indeed there were cases where they voted pro a vaccine from companies from which they themselves received research funding. But in most countries, for the last 10 or so years, members must disclose any potential conflict of interest with pharmaceutical companies: from lectures, to research on their behalf, share in a company, etc. The result can lead to a member not being allowed to discuss and vote on the respective vaccine.

Pharma industry:

Again and again, vaccine opponents accuse the pharmaceutical industry to push vaccinations for one reason only: to make money. The percentage of money spent by insurance companies on vaccines is less than 1% of the overall costs. The biggest money makers are medications for chronic diseases, amongst them Diabetes type 2 medications and heart medications. 

Media and their coverage don’t help:

In 2012 in Rimini, Italy, a court ruled that the MMR vaccination (measles, mumps, rubella) caused autism in a child. This created an outcry in the scientific world because there was absolutely no evidence for this ruling anywhere. Three years later, the ruling was revised but the damage was considerable. Interesting fact: Rimini is the center of the Italian “Comilva” anti-vaccination campaign. Why did media not highlight this “coindicence” and publish the revision of the original ruling?

And another thought: what about adults?

Were you aware that the main cause of the measles outbreaks in recent years were the large vaccine gaps in adolescents and young adults. More than 40 percent of 18 to 44 year olds are not vaccinated against measles. An interesting fact, since the very first measles vaccine was available in 1963. 

As a conclusion, I think it’s good that there are people who are critical of vaccinations. Their questions forced scientists and authorities to work correctly, be more transparent and improve their communication. 

Immunisations are safe, a sign of solidarity and reasonable. As long as children die for example from measles, we have not done our job: to completely prevent avoidable diseases. For all of us, vaccinations are not only a personal protective measure but they also offer a protection for the general public and the population as a whole. 

Posted on April 25, 2020 by

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