Is there any legitimacy behind the anti-vax argument?
Due to the rising occurrence of measles, a disease once thought to be eradicated, Australians are being encouraged to vaccinate to protect themselves. However, there is speculation as to whether vaccinations are as effective as reputed. Should vaccinations be compulsory or should Australians be allowed to determine for themselves whether to vaccinate?
Vaccinations quicken the immune response to infectious diseases by allowing lymphocytes to familiarise themselves with the pathogen prior to infection. Vaccines are administered to increase immunity of individuals and decrease the spread of diseases corporately. Infectious diseases are spread among organisms via pathogens such as viruses and bacteria compared to noninfectious diseases which cannot be transmitted.
Vaccinations work in partnership with the immune system, via white blood cells (lymphocytes). When a pathogen penetrates the body and the antigen is detected the immune system responds with B-Lymphocytes and T-Lymphocytes. B-Lymphocytes produce antibodies which, by producing proteins that bind with antibodies, can destroy or deactivate pathogens. T-Lymphocytes produce substances that attack pathogens, activate phagocytes or assist B cells in the production of antibodies. Each pathogen requires certain antibodies to be destroyed so lymphocytes usually take 10-17 days to produce the right antibodies. Subsequently, lymphocytes produce memory cells which remain in the bloodstream resulting in increased immune system response (2-7 days) upon further penetration. Vaccines quicken the process by convincing the immune system the inactivated forms of the virus are live pathogens causing the body to produce memory cells to prepare for future penetration by the pathogen. (NSW Australian Curriculum Science, Stage 5, 2018)
(Figure 1: How do Vaccines Work, 2014)
Upon analysis of medical history it is evident that vaccinations have drastically reduced the spread of disease. The drop in measles cases corresponds with the legalisation of measles vaccines in 1963 and Haemophilus influenzae type b experienced a sudden drop in the 1990’s when the vaccine was introduced. Additionally, Great Britain, Sweden and Japan reduced their intake of the pertussis vaccine and immediately reaped the consequences when epidemics recurred. Great Britain experienced over 100,000 cases in that year, Sweden, over 13,000 cases and Japan jumped from 700 cases in every 100,000 children to 3,200. (Global Vaccine Safety, n.d.)
(Figure 2: Herd Immunity, 2014)
Herd immunity, achieved via vaccinations, is when sufficient people (90-95%) in a community are vaccinated to halt transmission. Reviewing the Varicella vaccine, from 1994 to 2007, chickenpox cases decreased dramatically however, from 2004 to 2007, not one child under age one (being too young for vaccination) died from chickenpox. This is due to older children being vaccinated therefore reducing transmission of the disease. (Vaccine and Herd Immunity, 2014)
Yet, some claim, for religious reasons, vaccinations shouldn’t be forced. Among the Islamic community vaccinations are denied due to containing gelatin from pigs. Despite purification of the gelatin it is against Islamic law to consume meat that hasn’t been killed according to Sharia laws. (Vaccination: Influencing Factors and View from an Islamic Perspective, n.d.) Further, Christian Scientists chose not to vaccinate, rather they rely on prayer for healing. (NSW Australian Curriculum Science, Stage 5, 2018)
Some are excluded from receiving vaccines for medical reasons. For example, the measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, influenza, rotavirus and live zoster vaccine should not be taken by those who have compromised or weakened immune systems due to diseases such as cancer, HIV or aids or medical treatments including radiation therapy, chemotherapy, steroids. Further pregnancy prohibits the administering of the HPV, Influenza, MMR, MMRV, Meningococcal, Varicella and Zoster vaccine. All vaccines have lists of conditions prohibiting people from taking them meaning forcing vaccines on these individuals would have detrimental impacts. (Who should not get vaccinated with these vaccines, 2017)
The vaccination process is readily available and affordable. Medical centres and pharmacies provide the recommended vaccines and in terms of finance, vaccines are often covered by government subsidies and/or health insurance. Certain vaccinations are distributed to Australian school students. The vaccination system has been reviewed and tailored to population needs to enable effective distribution.
Reviewing the above information, vaccination should not be compulsory for the entire population. However, those who do not vaccinate should be required to provide convincing medical or religious reasoning as to why they will not vaccinate. This exemption from vaccination should not apply across the board to all vaccinations but should be restricted to specific vaccines as appropriate. For the health of the general population strict guidelines need to be in place to minimise the size of the unvaccinated population.
To conclude, vaccinations are not only beneficial but essential to the health of Australian society and ought to be administered to the vast majority of the population. Exceptions ought to be in place for a minority population where stringent medical or religious criteria have been satisfied
Centers for disease control and prevention 2017, Who Should NOT Get Vaccinated with these Vaccines?, Australian Government, viewed 19 August 2019, <https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/should-not-vacc.html>.
Engku, Z, Khairool, M & Athirah, A n.d., Vaccination: Influencing Factors and View from an Islamic Perspective., pdf, viewed 18 August 2019, <http://iiumedic.net/imjm/v1/download/volume_17_special_issue_2/ISSUES-2-273.pdf>.
Healthcare Triage, G 2014, Vaccines and Herd Immunity, online video, 4 August, viewed 19 August 2019, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuiHFg_nfnE>.
Herd Immunity 2014, Pdf, Michigan Live, viewed 22 August 2019, <https://advancelocal-adapter-image-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/image.mlive.com/home/mlive-media/width2048/img/mlive_statewide_river_candidates/photo/herd-immunityjpg-e2a094c9040c0789.jpg>.
How do Vaccines Work? 2014, Pdf, Michigan Live, viewed 22 August 2019, <https://advancelocal-adapter-image-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/image.mlive.com/home/mlive-media/width2048/img/mlive_statewide_river_candidates/photo/how-vaccines-workjpg-4124fe097a13d163.jpg>.
Warnat, P, Arena, P, Burrows, K, Lofts, G & Evergreen, M 2018, NSW Australian Curriculum Science, Stage 5, Second edn, John Wiley & Sons Australia, Milton, Qld.
World Health Organisation n.d., Global Vaccine Safety, viewed 18 August 2019, <https://www.who.int/vaccine_safety/initiative/detection/immunization_misconceptions/en/index1.html>.