Vaccination is a hot topic. Supporters reveal the enormous benefits of vaccines to wipe out dangerous and fatal disease, improving global health and minimizing sickness and death.
Vaccinations have successfully eliminated or significantly reduced some diseases. Vaccines—more than antibiotics—have saved a significant number of lives, warding off measles, whooping cough, tetanus, polio, and chicken pox, among other diseases. Looking back to the early part of the 20th century, the United States experienced diseases like diphtheria and smallpox, which have become nearly obsolete today. The vaccine for smallpox is no longer considered necessary because the disease has been eradicated (although the virus still exists in laboratories).
Yet, despite this, national polls between 2005 and 2010 showed that 60 percent of Americans did not want to get the annual flu shot. Those who oppose vaccines worry about health risks, and wonder about possibly over-vaccinating the population. In recent decades, vaccines surfaced as a controversial topic, as cases of autism incidence have been on the rise, linked with thimerosal (a preservative used in some vaccines).
Much of the negativity and questions were sparked by a 1998 study published in the British medical journal The Lancet, which linked the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine to the development of autism. After word of the study reached the media and after a handful of Hollywood and television celebrities came out against vaccinations, a series of mixed messages and misinformation left parents confused and panicked about the right choice to make for their children.
In 2009, a series of articles published in a British newspaper revealed that data in The Lancet study had been falsified to associate a link between the MRR vaccine and autism, and the journal retracted the article. The ultimate result or fallout from the panic and confusion surrounding this controversy might not be known for years. However, the controversy did scare plenty of parents away from getting their children vaccinated, which means the risk of developing an infection increases.
Written by: Amy Boulanger
Published on Aug 18, 2011
Updated on Aug 31, 2012
Medically reviewed by Jennifer Monti, MD, MPH