Vaccine safety debate

The appearance of H1N1, and the resulting vaccine, has brought the issue of vaccine safety to the public square. Unfortunately, it is also bringing out the worst in people on both sides of the fight. The arguments are heated and vitriolic. We see little in the way of balanced, rational, and scientific points of view.

I’ve grown tired of the lies, propaganda and fear tactics I’m seeing on both sides. The pro-vaccine side does not allow any room for criticism, doubt or deviation from their position that all vaccines are a godsend and beyond reproach. The anti-vaccine side often gets their facts wrong and discounts science. (For the millionth time already, the U.S. flu vaccines do NOT contain squalene. Read the package inserts.) Both sides have resorted to name-calling, fear-mongering, and even threats!

Here’s a round up in case you’ve missed out on the fun:

“The anti-vac loonies are killing our kids”

“Because of vaccines, diseases that once killed millions are now invisible. But if only a few families stop vaccinating, the illnesses could reemerge in a community.”

“one drop of mercury on your skin is fatal, we know who owns and runs the FDA…the less shots, the less money they make and they have shareholders that dont care if you or your kids has an allergic reaction, gets sick and dies”

“We’re one mutation away from something that virulent and we live in a world with VASTLY more possible methods of propagation. The next flu we have as deadly as the 1918 flu will kill 100s of millions.”

“The flat-earthers are back! Well, not exactly, but their descendants have come up with the flat-earth equivalent for the 21st century. They reject vaccination.”

” Schoolchildren = guinea pigs. Results to be fully know in ten years. Profit to Glaxo/Smith/Kline? Right now.”

“In the case of vaccinations, insurance companies should deny coverage for vaccine preventable diseases and their complications in anyone who did not get the recommended vaccinations.”

“The H1N1 vaccination program is the equivalent of a day trip to a neo-death camp.”

“It is downright scary to see the US heading back to the Dark Ages. The reappearance of some horrible diseases once thought eradicated is downright criminal and is totally the fault of these lunatics.”

Comments like this hardly help advance debate and are unlikely to win converts for either side. The commenters constantly include accusations that the anti-vax side is not willing to look at, or doesn’t understand, science.  However, by arguing that vaccines are completely safe, the pro-vaxers are also eschewing science.

Doubts and skepticism are at the core of the scientific movement! True scientists should be willing to look at empirical evidence on both sides. They realize that science is not meant to be prescriptive, and what we know as “the truth” can change.

This means letting go of the idea that vaccines are infallible. We already know they don’t work in all cases. Why? There is evidence to show that sometimes vaccines do harm people. Why? If we pay attention to the concerns of parents of vaccine damaged children, rather than dismissing them out of hand, maybe scientists could find out if something is happening to them and if so what the cause might be. Can a test be developed to determine genetic susceptibility to severe reaction?

Further questions raised by mass vaccination programs could also use investigation. For instance, what effects are vaccinations having on virus and bacteria development? (E.g. the pneumo vaccines like PPSV23 and Prevnar have resulted in serotype replacement. How likely is it that this will happen with others, like the HPV vaccines?) Is there a way to make vaccine production safer or more efficient? (We’ve seen the delays in both seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines due to problems getting the egg embryos to proliferate.) Is there a way to formulate vaccines that doesn’t require the dangerous additives or animal derived ingredients? Why are we seeing a rise in immune system disorders, and is it really related to vaccines?

If the CDC and FDA are meant to be the safety watchdogs, looking out for the public health, why are they not looking into these issues instead of undertaking multi- million dollar campaigns promoting vaccines as perfectly safe? If studies aren’t being done to truly understand the issues and make the public safer, why not?

The governmental agencies are far from influence free, and while it makes sense that pharmaceutical groups would do best to remain unbiased, profit clearly plays a role in their work. We need to see more independent, non-biased research undertaken. We need to see more agencies like the Cochrane Collaboration that are looking at all the studies and data on both sides with a more balanced viewpoint.

This debate is not going to disappear any time soon, but by addressing some of the core issues using science we might have a chance to improve safety and put some of the arguments to rest. Both the pro and anti-vax groups need to let go of their beliefs and work together for the benefit of all.