The objectives of this presentation are to explore and learn:
• Important facts about vaccines & vaccination, enabling parents to make important family health decisions
• How to better separate fact from fiction—dangerous misinformation & myths
• Christians’ moral obligation to protect the life and health of those around them.
According to the CDC, a vaccine is a product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease, thus protecting the person from that disease.
Evidence of early attempts at immunization has been discovered from over 1,000 years ago when the ancient Chinese recognized the link between exposure and immunity. They may have used pulverized smallpox scabs rubbed onto the skin in a primitive form of inoculation. Smallpox and other infectious diseases were distressingly common and spread quickly, especially in crowded, dirty cities. The young were especially vulnerable—in the 1500s, records indicate that as many as 30% of all children died before age 15. Some of the leading killers were dysentery, scarlet fever, whooping cough, influenza, smallpox, and pneumonia.
Fast forwarding in time, we have the period of world exploration by famous adventurers like Christopher Columbus, who, along with other Europeans in 1492, came to the Americas and unwittingly brought smallpox, measles, whooping cough, chicken pox, bubonic plague, and typhus. In the 150 years that followed that initial contact, an estimated 80-95% of the native population was gone…wiped out from diseases they had heretofore never been exposed. In the 1700s, a turning point for vaccine development was approaching. Europeans recognized that survivors of certain infectious diseases were immune to future exposures, and some began deliberately exposing and infecting themselves with a disease to gain immunity. This early approach was fraught with peril and the risk of death was disagreeably high, but it helped form the basic principles and foundation of immunology. In 1796, a British doctor Edward Jenner developed the first true vaccine against smallpox by using cowpox, a related disease affecting cattle but relatively benign in humans. News of his discovery spread around the world and the procedure became commonly used. 85 years later Louis Pasteur discovered that bacteria was the source of numerous diseases and as a result of this discovery the first vaccines produced in a laboratory were developed.
Diseases like yellow fever and polio still wreaked havoc on populations of Europe and the United States at the start of the 20th century. The mortality from smallpox was massive prior to the introduction of an effective vaccine, with up to half of populations dying during epidemics. However, as the century progressed, scientists built on the principles discovered by the earlier pioneers in the field and were able to develop individual vaccines for 27 major infectious diseases. By the year 2000, age old menaces like smallpox, yellow fever, polio, and measles were virtually obliterated from the developed world.
It is often declared that, excepting access to clean water and sanitation, vaccination has made the greatest impact on global health of any human intervention. While it is true that prior to the development of vaccines, there was a progressive decline in child mortality thanks to improvements in housing, nutrition, and sanitation, it is undeniable that vaccination has made enormous contributions towards improving human health. It is difficult to fully grasp and appreciate how vaccines have revolutionized medicine. To sum it up, vaccines have been and continue to be astonishingly successful.
Vaccines have not just almost wiped out many diseases that sickened, disabled, or killed hundreds of thousands of people, they have just as effectively erased the memory of those diseases as well. Perhaps it could be said that vaccines have become victims of their own success. It is easy to disregard illnesses that are rarely even heard of anymore. How many people born in the last 25 years of the 20th century even know another person who was affected by polio? Tetanus? Whooping cough? Virtually no new parents have ever encountered any of these diseases and do not comprehend how dangerous they are. This has engendered in some an indifferent approach toward vaccination, and in extreme cases individualistic attitudes morph into an anti-establishment/anti-authority mentality. Surprisingly, this is not only a modern-day problem. Fierce opposition against vaccination arose in Victorian England, especially when vaccination was made compulsory following the establishing of the Vaccination Act of 1871. Vaccinations not only touch what we hold as most hallowed–that deeply personal sphere of child care–but also involve national and international politics.
We are living in an age when personal freedom is revered–even to the degree of extreme excess–especially in affluent societies. How is God directing Christians through issues dealing with the boundaries of personal freedom versus social obligations? Are an individual’s beliefs more important than the health interests of an entire population? When a family chooses not to vaccinate as recommended, not only are their children at risk of vaccine-preventable disease, but they also jeopardize the health and safety of others.
Some will claim willingness to risk having their children infected with a preventable disease in order to avoid vaccination, but are they also willing to accept responsibility for infecting pregnant women and their unborn babies, infants too young to be vaccinated, the immune-compromised, or the small number of vaccinated people whose vaccine was not 100% effective? Unvaccinated humans become vectors for disease, allowing its spread through a population. When the percentage of unvaccinated individuals in a community increases, the risk of infecting those not able to be vaccinated rises exponentially.
The measles virus causes infection of the respiratory system and typically include high fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes, flu-like symptoms, and whole-body skin rash. For most, the infection is fairly mild and not life threatening. Some, however, are less fortunate and experience the more serious effects of the disease which include blindness, hearing damage, brain damage, and even death. Measles are extremely virulent, ensuring that the virus infects an unusually high number of unprotected people who are exposed. 90% of unvaccinated people exposed to measles virus will develop infection, and infected individuals are able to spread measles to others 4 days before developing symptoms and 4 days after the rash appears. As mentioned earlier, some contend that an actual exposure is better than being vaccinated, but fighting off a disease like measles is such an insult to the immune system that it can become impaired and less able to fight off other infections for 2-3 years after recovery. When the measles vaccine is launched in a community, there is a substantial reduction in other childhood diseases as well.
By contrast, a vaccine contains antigens, which could be thought of as unique markers from a bacteria or virus that train the immune system to recognize a disease. When the body is exposed to an antigen, either from vaccination or encountering and fighting the disease in its wild state, the immune system creates and stores a “memory” of the disease marker. This establishes immunity; when the body is exposed to the disease again, the immune system is able to quickly and effectively mount such an overwhelming response that the person does not even become sick or able to spread the disease to others.
The entire childhood vaccine regimen contains approximately 150-160 antigens, trivial in comparison to the thousands of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that infants are exposed to every day, beginning even before the child takes the first breath. It is also important to bear in mind that the antigens in vaccines are not the actual disease-causing organism, only the markers of the disease or in some cases an inactivated virus that is incapable of reproducing the disease they are designed to prevent. In medicine, we ‘never say never’ but the chance is so exceedingly unlikely for disease to be caused or spread by vaccination that we would say that it is ‘virtually impossible’.
It is theorized that an infant could safely handle up to 100,000 vaccines given at once–we grossly underestimate the ability of the immune system to respond to antigens. Its capacity exceeds the mind’s ability to comprehend. Countless hours have been spent in determining the optimum dosage and timing for vaccination schedules in order to safely provide the maximum protection to our children when they are most at risk. Vaccines have been exhaustively tested for safety and efficacy–more than anything in the history of medicine. Reviewing data collected only from the last decade in the United States alone, billions of vaccinations have been given, leaving a veritable treasure trove of records that can be examined. The hallmark of the scientific method is that facts discovered through research are reproducible and verifiable. If vaccines were dangerous or bad like some claim, every government in the world would have to be unified and conspiring together to keep this suppressed. This would raise the question of “Why?” Dark theories are continuously bandied about on the world wide web, and purveyors of misinformation never rest. Young parents within the Church are experiencing online bullying from their peers through chat groups with messaging platforms like WhatsApp. It is exceedingly presumptuous for parents to assume that through a few days of internet research they can choose an enhanced path for their children. Minimizing or ignoring science to embrace social controversy misleads parents–however sincere–into vigorously defended decisions that are not based on correct facts and accurate risk assessment. Instead of focusing on whether or not vaccines are safe, parents need to focus on learning about the disease.
Once a lawyer was visiting with Jesus, attempting to draw him out with difficult questions. When asked ‘Which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ Who is our neighbor? Christians have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of those around them. The book Bible Doctrine and Practice makes some clear points regarding Christians and their duties towards neighbors, communities, and society in general. “Christians should express their appreciation for the privilege of living in a community and nation. This may be done by living honestly and uprightly and by doing good deeds of kindness to whomsoever they may. It entails giving one’s neighbor the advantage, especially in material things. They should contribute positively for the good of the community and nation in whatever ways do not conflict with their loyalty to Christ and his kingdom. Believers must be good inhabitants of the nation in which they live. Christians should refrain from being critical of the earthly authority. Peter speaks of those who ‘despise government. Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities’…”
Through researching material for this project, it was noted that nearly all websites and articles of misinformation had many distinguishing characteristics in common. First and foremost, they are fear mongering–drawing heavily from the unknown and unproven to sow fear and mistrust. They are strongly anti-authority and anti-governmental. They are very insistent, shrilly urging the reader to stand up and take action. They are humanistic, pro-self, and strongly promote individualism over common good. On the other hand, the peer-reviewed articles, research data, and calmly presented information from reputable sources contrasts sharply with the former and does not leave the reader feeling victimized and fearful.
Accepting and promoting vaccination is a very beneficial way Christians can contribute positively to their communities, the nation, and the entire world. Vaccination and immunization programs should not conflict with a believer’s faith, neither is there any incompatibility with the beliefs and teachings of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. - Michael Loewen RN, Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.