Why vaccinate?

Why do we vaccinate children? To prevent some horrific diseases that have haunted the human race for centuries. These diseases have not gone – they are still lurking in the darkness, and have already started to reappear in towns with low vaccination rates. Here is a brief reminder of five diseases that no sane person would want to see return.

Diphtheria

Diphtheria is caused by a toxin-producing bacterium. It kills between 50 and 200 out of each thousand people who catch it.

Measles

Measles is caused by a virus. In the US, it kills about 2 out of each thousand people who catch it (in the rest of the world, more like 7 out of each thousand). However, it can also cause brain damage, deafness, blindness, and other complications in the survivors. It is extremely infectious – far more so than Ebola or the flu. And cases are trending upwards in the USA as a result of non-vaccination.

Rubella

Rubella (German measles) is of concern not only because of the harm it can do to those who catch it, but because it also causes miscarriages and birth defects in pregnant women.

Pertussis

Pertussis (whooping cough) can leave children weak for a long time. It is particularly deadly in young infants, and low vaccination rates are responsible for the deaths of babies in some areas. See here for a rather disturbing video of a baby in intensive care.

Poliomyelitis

Poliomyelitis (polio) is caused by a virus, which can cause permanent paralysis of various muscles. The 1950s saw serious epidemics that have now been largely forgotten. Unfortunately, attempts to eradicate polio have stalled in certain parts of the world.


Polio survivors (photo: RIBI Image Library)

Worldwide, each minute of every day and night, three children under five die from vaccine-preventable diseases like these. So “jab for life,” mums and dads!


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Mercury and formaldehyde in vaccines?

The anti-vax community runs regular scare campaigns regarding “toxins in vaccines.” Mercury and formaldehyde are the two most often mentioned. Mercury occurs in the form of the antibacterial thiomersal (thimerosal), but not in vaccines routinely administered to children. Thiomersal is present in multi-dose vials (not in single-use vials) of influenza vaccine, typically at a level of 25 micrograms (0.025 milligrams) per dose. For comparison, though, the normal mercury intake is about 2410 micrograms (2.41 milligrams) per year, so an annual “flu shot” adds very little extra. And even that exaggerates the risk, because thiomersal breaks down into ethylmercury, which is less dangerous than other forms.

Formaldehyde, though toxic in moderate to large quantities, is naturally produced and consumed as part of human metabolism, with a turnover of about 50 grams of formaldehyde per day for a person weighing 50 kg. Formaldehyde occurs naturally in blood at levels of about 2.6 milligrams per litre. Even for a 3.5 kg newborn baby (with 85 mL/kg of blood), that comes to 0.77 milligrams of formaldehyde (and there’s more in body tissue). Vaccines contain at most 100 micrograms (0.1 milligrams) of formaldehyde, and so add very little to the blood (and that is very quickly eliminated). That’s even more true for older children, with their much greater blood volume.

Part of the problem here, I suspect, is widespread confusion between grams, milligrams, and micrograms. At the other end, of course, some people also have problems in economics with understanding the difference between millions, billions, and trillions.