Childhood vaccinations are one of the most controversial topics in American health care. Children are routinely vaccinated for a host of communicable diseases, beginning in infancy and continuing through their school years. Some groups, for various reasons, resist vaccination of their children.
Vaccines save lives by preventing diseases such as smallpox and polio, which were known to kill or severely disfigure most victims. They also save lives by preventing the life-threatening complications associated with illnesses such as measles or influenza. Infant survival rates have historically improved in direct relation to vaccination programs (based on CDC statistics).
Several vaccinations are required by law for school-children. This protects not only the vaccinated children, but teachers and others with close contact as well, by preventing the carrying and spreading of diseases that are known for their potential for outbreaks and epidemics. Vaccinated children suffer fewer illnesses and as a result can be expected to miss fewer class days and thus receive a better overall education.
There are problems, however. Some people have objected to vaccination on religious grounds, because they do not believe in putting foreign substances into their bodies or their childrens’ bodies. Religious freedom must be taken into account and weighed against the risk to children very carefully when considering this issue.
Vaccination is not 100% effective, either – and in some cases, the known side-effects that may be caused by vaccines can be as life-threatening as the illness they are intended to prevent (based on listed potential side-effects in physician drug literature). Listed side-effects can range from local reaction and itching or redness at the injection site, headache, and fever to more the more serious difficulty breathing, muscle deterioration, liver failure, and irregular heartbeat. Obviously the more severe side effects do not occur often, but in modern society neither do the diseases the vaccinations are intended to prevent.
Then there are the “unknown” side effects – those that are suspected but have not been conclusively proven to be linked to vaccines. Many studies have been done on the potential and apparent link between certain childhood vaccinations and the appearance of symptoms of autism. Autistic symptoms generally develop when a child is around four years of age, and several booster-vaccinations are given around that age as well. Documented cases of autism have increased in the last fifty years in this nation.
Does the disease happen to begin showing symptoms at the same age as routine vaccinations, or is it a result of a chemical used in preparing the vaccine? Or, as some of the more credible and recent studies have suggested, does something in the vaccine trigger the appearance of symptoms in people with the trait for autism? Have the number of autistic children actually increased, or has the medical field gotten better at diagnosing the disease? These questions are hotly debated, and there appear to be few conclusive answers.
I am neither advocating vaccination, nor advocating complete avoidance. In most cases, the potential risks of vaccination are far less and less severe than the potential consequences to the child’s health if left unprotected. However, I do think that extreme caution should be used in removing the right of parents to weigh the issues for themselves in relation to their own child on a case-by-case basis. It is a complex issue and it cannot and should not be regulated by a broad law that is incapable of taking individual considerations into account.
Should vaccinations be required by law?