Recently, there has been a lot of buzz about vaccines and their safety, especially in relation to their link with conditions like autism. This article will explore the basics of how vaccines work, and the current consensus of the medical community based on available research on this issue.
To start, let’s go over some simple immunology. When a bug first enters a person’s body, they get sick. This probably lasts about a week or so depending on the bug. On the surface, it looks like a simple phenomenon. You get sick, and then you get better; But under the surface, there’s a bit more to it than that. Your body has many defence systems in place to protect you against possible threats. In this discussion, we will limit ourselves to the process that is relevant to the way vaccines work.
Most bugs have little proteins on their surface that we can use to identify them. Our body’s immune system can use these little tags to produce specific weapons to use against the bugs. These weapons, called antibodies, are highly effective at eliminating the bugs. Creating antibodies, however, takes time. This is why it takes a while for us to get better after we get sick. The body can, however, retain the memory of how to make these antibodies. This means your body can eliminate this particular type of bug before it can even make you sick the next time it enters your body.
Vaccines contain weakened or dead bugs, which are unable to make us sick. They do, however, trigger the immune system to respond and create antibodies. This offers us long lasting protection against whatever bug the vaccine contained. This, in short, is how vaccines work.
For more details on how the immune system works, check out this video by Osmosis:
The myth that vaccines have some sort of link to autism came from a single research paper. Scientists later disproved and discredited that paper as simply being bad science.
When you put forward a hypothesis, it has to survive the test of large amounts of research by many different teams before you can consider it an objective truth. Only if a hypothesis can survive and is supported by the results of all this research, does it become an objective truth.
The effectiveness of vaccines is such an objective truth. Vaccines have helped eliminate diseases like smallpox, and they have nearly managed to achieve this same success with polio. Similarly, no research has been able to conclusively find a causative link between vaccinations and other problems like autism.
So, when I hear stories like the recent outbreak of chickenpox, a vaccine preventable disease, in North Carolina, it concerns me. Not getting vaccinated does not just affect you, but the entire community. This is because of a concept known as herd immunity. Herd immunity is the idea that if enough people are immunised in a community, it will help avoid the spread of the disease to those who aren’t, since most people they come into contact with can’t transmit it to them.
In short, vaccines are safe and extremely effective at reducing disease prevalence in communities. So much so, in fact, that even if they were somehow causing autism, the benefits would still outweigh the risks as there would be a greater chance of getting sick if you didn’t get the vaccine, than there would be to get autism from the vaccine. So, vaccinate your children, for everyone’s sake.
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