The best cure for a fear of shots? Knowing you have no choice but to get one. Well, at least that’s what you thought when the doctor led you into the exam room and made small talk so you’d forget about what was bound to happen. But more and more people are considering that scenario old news. They part of a growing movement that questions how necessary those scary shots are, and if the effects of getting vaccinated are even scarier.
“I think they’re too under-researched to put into the human system right now,” IDS international studies sophomore Shelley Hoover said. “I’ve gotten live vaccinations because I lived abroad. I haven’t noticed any detrimental effects, but who knows. I would have rather have not had them. I can’t say that they hurt me or anything, but for all I know they did.”
Hoover is not alone in her opinion. Many people say vaccines have not undergone sufficient research to be injected into people. They sight links to disorders like autism or being ineffective at making recipients immune to diseases. Some say diseases like measles, mumps, and chickenpox aren’t a threat to healthy childrens’ lives, so vaccinations are unneccessary.
Some evidence does exist to support these claims. Mark Largent, a social policy professor, is writing a book about compulsory vaccinations in the United States. “It depends on vaccine – the CDC’s website has detailed explanations of [severe reactions associated with] each. A severe reaction of substantial concern is encephalitis, swelling of the brain, which leads to seizures,” Largent said.
Largent said another element to the argument against vaccines is debating whether or not natural immunity or vaccine immunity is more effective. “[The] difference between natural and vaccine immunity [is] hotly contested right now,” Largent said. “The argument against vaccines is that the immunity caused by vaccines wanes more quickly than does natural immunity. This argument is most commonly seen in the discussions about chicken pox vaccine.”
For some who question vaccination, it’s not one shot in particular that has them worried, it’s the combination of so many that children are expected to receive. “Michigan requires (by age 6) 24 shots of 37 vaccines. The CDC recommends 36 shots of 49 vaccines [by the age of 6].” And they don’t go away after that. While MSU does not require any vaccinations for enrollment, they strongly encourage meningitis, chicken pox, hepatitis B, and tetanus/diphtheria shots. If students decide to study abroad, a slew of vaccinations can come along too, depending on the country they visit.
The sheer number of required vaccines over a lifetime makes some wonder how necessary they are. For example, Hepatitis B is a bloodborne infectious disease contracted most commonly through unprotected sex or intravenous drug use. But, it’s the only immunization the Mayo Clinc recommends newborns receive before leaving the hospital.
Some also question the amount of testing that has been done to identify possible adverse effects of vaccinations. The CDC and the FDA reassure everyone when they say all vaccines are tested extensively for unwanted effects, and Largent backed up this claim, but explained that most of the controversy over testing concerns the combinations of vaccines rather than just a few in particular.
Questioning the validity of compulsory vaccines sounds controversial because we’ve all been told we need them since birth, and we know they’re not a complete hoax. The purpose of vaccines is to force a person to form antibodies that will later protect them from a certain disease. Plenty of people have attributed their healthy selves to shots, especially during flu season, but much of the concern about vaccines surrounds the young age when so many are administered. “The argument is that children’s systems are immature and not capable of handling all components that are in a vaccine – this becomes especially [important] for people who worry about vaccines when children receive multiple shots at one doctor visit,” Largent said. “Vaccine proponents have refuted these claims by arguing that the actual contents of the vaccines amount to only a tiny proportion of what a baby’s immune system deals with in a given day.”
Who is choosing to avoid the birth to booster innoculations? “We tend to see higher rates of non-compliance as socio-economic levels increase,” Largent said. “Meaning that more education and more money tend to make parents less likely to follow doctor’s orders.”
Some in the pro-vaccination camp distinguish themselves from everyday people who choose to vaccinate their children by taking offense to others choosing not to use vaccinations to protect their children. Often, the “free-rider” issue is raised, meaning pro-vaccination people say kids who are not vaccinated are maintaining their health by relying on everyone else who is vaccinated around them — they won’t get sick because everyone they know has taken steps to protect themselves. Some pro-vaccination bloggers make the claim that people who don’t vaccinate are abusive or some kind of healthcare heretic.
But that doesn’t bother people like Hoover. When asked if she would vaccinate her children she said, “I wouldn’t get them vaccinated. Unless it is absolutely illegal to not vaccinate them, it’s not worth it.”
In Michigan, there are three exemption forms parents can fill out to explain why their children do not have required shots. The forms cite either philosophical, religious, or medical objections with vaccinations.
The Mayo Clinic’s Web site emphasizes parents’ responsibility in choosing vaccinations, but they also say doubt is not an accessible reason not to vaccinate children.
Largent said the vaccination debate can be framed as one of social responsibility — individuals vaccinate not only to protect themselves but also to protect others who cannot do so. He said choosing what we put into our bodies is a right; yet many of the public structures we’re a part of, like the public school system, have vaccination expectations, and being a part of those is a privilege. So, we may be able to decide what shots to put into our bodies, but we may also have to pay a social cost for it. Schools may not be so supportive of that decision, and other parents may view unvaccinated children as “free riders.”
No matter what the decision, the point is that the rising debate about the benefits and dangers of vaccinations has made more people aware that immunizing is a choice not an order — one that requires research and responsibility.
Editors’ Note: Katie Sulau, Nicole Nguyen, and Jordan Barnes also contributed to this story.