From the age of the miraculous wonder that eradicated dreaded smallpox, humanity has now reached an age where the awe of the vaccine is slowly diminishing, and people are starting to question their efficacy and legitimacy. In social media these "anti-vaxxers" are deemed crazy and ignorant, mostly accusations made by "pro-vaxxers," and such an issue has become polarizing and partisan.
An unvaccinated child who is infected may transfer the contagion to others, especially toddlers and teenagers. So, naturally, "pro-vaxxers" are shocked and frankly scared at the prospect of unvaccinated children, particularly after the bloodied history of smallpox, polio, and meningitis. It is unfair, however, for "pro-vaxxers" to vilify the sentiments of those against vaccinations. "Anti-vaxxers" do not seek to infect the entire population or paint "pro-vaxxers" as evil; their hostility against vaccines stem from a different agent: unreliable history. The misconceptions surrounding the science of vaccines and their contents has given birth to various myths that conceive doubt in vaccinations.
The main argument against vaccines is the sentiment that they can cause autism in children. This type of propaganda is guaranteed to cause parents to question the efficacy and safety of vaccinations. The myth stems from a report by Dr. AJ Wakefield published in The Lancet in 1998. The study examined 12 children who had "a history of normal development followed by loss of acquired skills." The researchers stated that "in eight children, the onset of behavioural problems had been linked…with measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination," beginning the debate on the relationship between vaccines and Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The media storm that followed prompted various organizations including the FDA and The Journal of the American Medical Association to release studies stating that there was no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. The studies focused on thimerosal, the accused autism-causing ingredient in vaccines due to it containing mercury. Though both the FDA and The Journal of the American Medical Association found no connection between thimerosal and autism, in 1999 and 2001 respectively, the ingredient was removed from childhood vaccinations in the US market in 2001. Further research by the New England Journal of Medicine found that there was no connection between vaccines in general, not just thimerosal, and ASD. Finally, in 2004, potentially ending the autism argument, ten of the thirteen original authors of The Lancet report formally retracted the interpretation that vaccines are associated with autism caused by their article.
However, this is not the only misconception associated with vaccines. In 1949, John F. Enders discovered the efficacy of growing the poliovirus in human embryo cells. Many before them had been able to grow viral cultures in embryonic cells of other animals, but this was not efficient for many viruses, like the poliovirus, because many viruses are species-specific. Enders' research allowed many viruses such as varicella and measles to be grown and studied in lab. In the 1960s, two women opted for early termination of pregnancy due to "acquisition of rubella in pregnancy." The fetal tissue from these elective abortions led to the development of the rubella vaccine.
After the debate surrounding the accusations of Planned Parenthood selling fetal tissue and the ethical controversy of stem cell research, this information was expounded by social media, convincing people that modern vaccines contain fetal DNA from abortions. Fetal tissue was never used as an ingredient in vaccines, rather it was just the base to grow the virus from which the vaccine was made. In fact, there have been no further sources of fetal cells to make vaccines. The embryonic cells from the two 1960s abortions have continued to grow and are used to create vaccines today.
The misconceptions outlined above are scary, however, they are not as shocking once all the facts are laid out. "Anti-vaxxers" are entitled to their opinions and their choices. It is understandable why they do not want mandated vaccines in public school if they do not want to perpetuate government intervention in their decision-making for their children. However, the basis for their choices should be informed, propaganda absent from the historical and scientific facts.