I hope the anti-vaccination advocates soon realize that any victory they gain could lead to the next epidemic of an easily preventable disease…

I remember watching an episode (ep. 14) of the Korean historical drama Jejoongwon where an American missionary doctor and a team of newly trained Korean doctors develop a smallpox vaccine using The Lancet and Korean texts, 우두신설 (udusinseol, On Making Vaccines) [Author: Ji Seok-yeong, 1885] and 마과회통 (magwahoetong, Medical Treatment for the Measles) [Author: Jeong Yak-yong, 1800].

The key conflict of the episode were the anti-vaccination protests led by mudang, Korean shamans, who felt that the new doctors and their methods were unwanted competition and dangerous. I remember that when I was watching those scenes, I was grateful that contemporary society no longer believed superstition over science. I was 13 at that time…

I was quickly proven wrong when I came across a group of anti-vaccine protesters in front of the Atlanta CDC office on Clifton Road. As a biology-major student, I felt a strong urge to debate their claims that vaccines cause autism, but I chose safety over education and went on with my day. However, the experience compelled me to look into the vaccine case myself.

I was grateful that contemporary society no longer believed superstition over science. I was 13 at that time…

I was naive to think that challengers of established facts didn’t exist. In fact, anti-vaccination has long existed. Vaccine skeptics suggest that vaccination is profit-driven and compulsory vaccination laws infringe personal liberty and choice. Others mistrust the science and believe that vaccines are against nature and unnecessary since good hygiene is enough to prevent disease. Other suspicions are based on government conspiracy theories.

However, what really gave vaccine skeptics fuel was Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues’ research paper published in The Lancet in 1998. The paper linked the measles mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism. Later studies refuted Wakefield’s claims and he was discovered to have a conflict of interest. In 2010, the British General Medical Council (GMC) found three dozen charges proved. The Lancet retracted his paper following the GMC’s findings. Three months later, Wakefield was removed from UK medical register and barred from practicing medicine in the UK. 

Accordingly the Panel finds Dr Wakefield guilty of serious professional misconduct.

– General Medical Council

Following the Wakefield debacle, scientific research has shown that vaccines do not correlate with autism. I will consent that vaccines are known to have side effects, but autism is not one of them. And when it comes to vaccines for deadly diseases, vaccination is worth the risk of side effects.

Yet, the anti-vaccination movement, buoyed by President Trump, remains strong in America. Members of the movement are calling for a new vaccine safety commission and the ban of the mercury-based preservative thimerosal (chemical structure here). (As a side note, I would like to remind readers that a compound containing an element does not have the same properties as the element.) Studies have not indicated a connection between thimerosal and autism, but thimerosal was phased out of child vaccines in 2001 regardless.

So, if thimerosal is no longer in child vaccines, then what is the anti-vaccination movement fighting for? In the end, they’re not fighting for vaccine safety, but rather searching for an easy explanation for their children’s autism. But disorders in the autistic spectrum are complex and can’t be explained away as vaccine injury, and certainly not as mercury poisoning, which shows different symptoms from autism.

And seeing that these people are so concerned for their children, they should take the time to look up these diseases: hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and polio. These diseases once plagued developed countries, and still kill thousands in undeveloped areas. If you grieve that your child has autism, then how much more will you grieve if your child contracts any of those deadly diseases without immunity from a vaccine?

I hope the anti-vaccination advocates soon realize that any victory they gain could lead to the next epidemic of an easily preventable disease. 

In response to Discover Challenge: Speak Out

As usual, if you wish to debate or otherwise discuss this topic, feel free to comment. Remember that comments are moderated, so be civil!

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