Recently in Greenville, three students missed the deadline to get vaccinated and were subsequently suspended from school. While the students were placed on medical suspension and not academic probation, the situation re-opened the age-old debate between anti-vaxxers and medical practitioners, specifically regarding the many myths surrounding the safety of vaccines.
As a STEM student specifically interested in biology, I have always found it fascinating how so many people think not vaccinating themselves or their children is a good idea. Vaccinations are dead or weakened forms of disease-causing pathogens, which, when injected into our body, induces the production of pathogen-fighting molecules known as antibodies. As our immune system has a memory of its own, it is able to recognize every pathogen on a second infection and produce the antibody required to kill it, preventing disease.
While I believe the science behind vaccinations is sound, unfortunately, there are many people who believe otherwise. Dr. Julie Casani, director and medical director of Student Health Services at NC State explained why that is so.
“Some people say that the risk of getting the vaccine is more than the risk of them getting the disease or illness,” Casani said. “And they think that is because either the disease isn’t that bad, like some people think the flu isn’t that bad. But they don’t understand that not all infections are mild. There are still fatalities from things like the flu.”
Casani also talked about something called the MMR autism scare. According to a paper published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, “In 1998, Andrew Wakefield and 12 of his colleagues published a case series in the Lancet, which suggested that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine may predispose to behavioral regression and pervasive developmental disorder in children.” Wakefield’s study, despite having a scientifically insignificant sample size of 12 and numerous sketchy conclusions, gained tremendous popularity, and so “MMR vaccination rates began to drop because parents were concerned about the risk of autism after vaccination.”
However, this study has unanimously been debunked by the scientific community and is recognized to be full of false and inaccurate conclusions. According to PublicHealth, “The paper has since been completely discredited due to serious procedural errors, undisclosed financial conflicts of interest, and ethical violations.” Wakefield even lost his medical license after the paper was published. Despite these facts, people continue to believe vaccinations, such as the one for MMR, can cause disabilities in their children and so refuse to get them vaccinated.
That being said, some anti-vaxxers take their main issue with the chemicals present in vaccines. While it is correct that vaccines do comprise of certain chemicals like formaldehyde, mercury or aluminum, they are not used in high enough quantities to prove harmful to the human body. In fact, according to the FDA, the amount of formaldehyde produced by our body is more than that produced by the vaccines.
Casani said that NC State follows the guidelines stated under North Carolina’s immunization policies, and only grants valid medical and religious exemptions as per the aforementioned guidelines. No personal belief exemption is granted, and those students who fail to provide valid immunization records are put on academic hold.
“In general, everyone has the right to make their own health choices,” Casani said. “But the reason why we can require vaccines is because when you don’t get vaccinated, it’s not just you who can get sick, it’s other people around you, especially those people who, for medical reasons, cannot get vaccinated, and they are the very people you want to protect.”
There are risks associated with everything we do. Personally, I think walking down the streets on NC State’s campus is a much bigger health risk than getting vaccinated, but that doesn’t mean we stop going to class. It is important to understand that most of the risks associated with vaccines are myths. It is every able citizen’s civic duty to get a vaccine, not just to protect themselves, but the community as a whole.