Monday, November 16, 2009

How to Win an Argument About Vaccines

The anti-immunization crowd clings to well-worn myths.
Arm yourself with facts.

MYTH: Vaccines cause autism.
FACT: Until 2001. vaccines included thimerosai, a preservative containing ethylmercury. Mercury, of course can cause neurological damage. But there's scientific consensus that the amount once used in vaccines—around 50 micrograms per 0.5-ml dose was far short of toxic. And autism rates have continued to climb, suggesting that there's either a different cause or, more likely, that a better understanding of the condition has increased diagnoses;. A comprehensive review of the research, conducted in 2004 by the prestigious Institute of Medicine, found no evidence of a connection between vaccines and autism. None.

MYTH: Giving too many vaccines overwhelms a child's immune system.
FACT: This argument echoes the "too much of a good thing" chestnut. but there's no science behind it. With millions of vaccines administered every year, a handful of allergic reactions do happen. But severe cases are so rare that the CDC cannot calculate a statistical risk for the population - the numbers are just too small.

MYTH: Vaccines cause diabetes.
FACT: This idea relies on the flawed work of one doctor, who gathered data on a slew of vaccines and failed to follow standard study protocols, No other study-including those using the same data—could reproduce the results. The CDC and the Institute of Medicine have both dismissed any possible link. This argument also ignores the obvious and well-established fact that diabetes rates in children are climbing because obesity rates are climbing.

MYTH: Vaccines are no longer necessary, because the diseases are no longer a threat.
FACT: The opposite is true. Because of vaccines, diseases that once killed millions are now invisible. But if only a few families stop vaccinating, the illnesses could reemerge in a community, And the diseases are horrible—mumps and Haemophilus influenzae type b cause meningitis, which can lead to deafness, epilepsy, and cognitive impairment. Measles can lead to encephalitis, blindness, and death.

MYTH: Scientists are divided about the safety of vaccines.
FACT: By any measure of scientific consensus, there is total agreement. Vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary. Twelve studies have shown that the measles/ mumps/rubella vaccine is safe. Many other studies have disproved the theory that the Hib shot is toxic. The few dissenters get lots of attention, but it's always the same old names.

MYTH: Aluminum in vaccines is just as toxic as mercury.
FACT: Aluminum, the most common metal in nature, is perfectly safe in small amounts. (A dose of antacid has about 1,000 times as much as a vaccine does.) Aluminum salts are used in vaccines to increase antibody response. They make it possible to use less vaccine less often.

Erin Biba
Wired, October 2009

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