The decision whether to vaccinate is a substantial one in light of the available medical evidence but this does not mean that people should simply reject vaccinations as unsafe, ignoring the numerous benefits because of general concerns about the potential risks. Vaccinations afford many health benefits and have a long-standing history as preventative health measures. They are notable effective at preventing vulnerable populations against dangerous diseases and offer a substantial public health benefit because they are cost-effective as health measures. Despite these benefits, though, many individuals question whether it is appropriate to get vaccinations recommended by health care provided and organizations such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vaccinations are one of the most important preventative tools available to health care professionals (Omer, Salmon, Orenstein, deHart, and Halsey, 2009). Since their introduction in the US in the 19th century, vaccines have helped to prevent and control outbreaks of diseases such as small pox and measles (Omer et al., 2009). According to the Center for Disease Control (2014), diseases that used to be common, including polio, measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, rubella, mumps, tetanus, and rotavirus are now largely preventable using vaccinations. Vaccinations specifically supplement the immune system of young children, too. According to the CDC (2014), although new born babies typically have an inherited immunity to certain diseases from their mothers, the antibodies that constitute this degree of immunity tend to be eradicated during the first year of life, meaning that children over a year old are at risk of contracting many diseases that can be prevented by vaccinations. Studies have also shown that those who do not obtain vaccinations recommended by health care professionals and, in many instances in the United States, required by law, can face significant health consequences (Salmon, Haber, Gangarosa, Phillips, Smith, & Chen, 1999). Vaccinations are also deemed cost-effective and successful as public health measures because of vaccinated populations are consistently demonstrated to be at lower risk of contracting diseases against which they have been vaccinated. The CDC (2014) also corroborates the risk to unvaccinated children in its reported evidence that unvaccinated children have been found to have higher risk of compromised health if they contract diseases such as whooping cough. Another benefit of vaccinations from a public health perspective is that they are also cost-effective: they are relatively low-cost to produce and administer and, relative to costs associated with treating significant diseases such as measles and rubella, vaccines represent practical public health solutions (CDC, 2014).
Despite the documented benefits of vaccinations for personal and public health care, many people continue to question whether vaccinations are safe and whether they should be mandated. Some choose not to vaccinate their children because to do so would contravene religious practices or personal ideologies (National Vaccine Information Center, 2015). One of the most substantial and common concerns about the safety of vaccinations for children, however, is concern about so-called vaccine injury. Although vaccinations have significant benefits because they protect against a variety of potentially deadly diseases in a cost-effective and efficient manner, some medical evidence indicates that vaccinations can be extremely dangerous, even deadly, to certain populations (Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), n.d.). The problem with avoiding vaccinations entirely, however, because of perceived risk factors, is that instances of vaccine injury are relatively rare. The DHHS (n.d.) website features a section on vaccine injury but even the information listed there shows that the most common types of recognized vaccine injury are associated with allergic reactions to the vaccine components. Medical studies have also consistently demonstrated that that the most common type of reaction is an allergic response to the vaccine components (Stratton, Howe, & Johnston, 1994). In other words, the nature of the risk is little different from exposure to different food types or medications to which a person might have a reaction.
While there are risks to consider when receiving a vaccination, every individual must seriously weigh the benefits of vaccination against the potential negative consequences of not being vaccinated. Comprehensive medical studies suggest that it is often possible to identify risk factors that make people more likely to suffer from an allergic reaction to a vaccine component or some form of vaccine injury. According to a CDC (2015) report on health risks associated with vaccinations, it is commonly advised that people with a severe allergy to any component of vaccines, pregnant or nursing mothers, and anyone who is sick at the time should avoid vaccinations. These are reasonable guidelines to follow. Because of the general and sizeable benefits of vaccinations as preventative health measures for the majority of people, too, rather than simply refusing to be vaccinated or refusing to have children vaccinated, individuals should be encouraged to rationally consider all of the benefits and the risks of vaccinations and make informed decisions by considering their own individual medical history. Rather than rejecting vaccinations outright, people should be encouraged only to avoid vaccinations if they meet risk criteria, utilizing the benefits of vaccination for themselves and the community as far as possible.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2014). Why are childhood vaccines so important? Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/howvpd.htm.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2015). Who should not get vaccinated with these vaccines? Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/should-not-vacc.htm.
- Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). (n.d.). Vaccine Industry Table. Retrieved from: http://www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation/vaccinetable.html#sthash.zQHbgnBb.dpuf.
- Feemster, K.A. (2015). Remembering the benefits of vaccination. Journal of the American Medical Association, 169 (7), 624-626. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.0647.
- National Vaccine Information Center, (2015). Vaccine Law Information. Retrieved from http://www.nvic.org/vaccine-laws.aspx.
- Omer, S.B., Salmon, D.A., Orenstein, W.A., deHart, M.P., and Halsey, N. (2009). Vaccine refusal, mandatory immunization, and the risks of vaccine-preventable Diseases. New England Journal of Medicine, 360, 1981-1988 doi:10.1056/NEJMsa0806477
- Salmon, D. A., Haber, M., Gangarosa, E.J., Phillips, L., Smith, N.J., Chen, R.T. Health consequences of religious and philosophical exemptions from immunization laws individual and societal risk of measles. Journal of the American Medical Association, 282 (1), 47-53. doi:10.1001/jama.282.1.47.
- Stratton, K.R., Howe, C.J., & Johnston, R.B. (1994). Adverse Events Associated with Childhood Vaccinations: Evidence Bearing on Causality. Washington, D.C.: National Academic Press.