The transformation of human health in society by vaccines is probably one of the greatest achievements in science. At the moment, the most obvious and visible signs that the facts are not in clear alignment with the truths presented by science, is the great, late vaccine debate. For better or for worse, much of the public argument over whether vaccines are a good or bad thing is really an argument about the value of the technology, and is not necessarily about the enterprise of science. Walking on the moon was a triumph of world-class engineering, which included nearly two centuries of classical physics distilled out by scientists like my Uncle Frank who helped design the original polymer used as the insulating material for the heat shield who hadn't the faintest idea of what it would be like to walk on the moon. Penicillin is another technology made possible by sixty years of scientific research in bacteriology, by the work of scientists who studied, in painstaking detail, the names and identities of bacteria, their habits, their diet and metabolism, just so they could have enough knowledge required to figure out that it takes Streptococcus and Staphylococcus in hand with the Penicillium fungus before you can even begin to consider such things as antibiotics.

Likewise is the case with vaccines. They represent one aspect of science that may be regarded, one long awaiting day, as the most important advancement for human health. This is the most heart-gut-wrenching news of all (in the Western world, anyway) is that a vast percentage of the population is forgoing basic inoculations out of fear it causes autism in young children. Understandably, many parents are weary from the science and a bit skeptical of the idea that a vaccines advertised value actually comes with the protection it provides, in this case, for their child.

Yet, despite the reassurances from their doctors and piles of evidence underscoring the safety and the value of vaccines, many devoted parents remain skeptical of their effectiveness; some are passionately opposed. The rising numbers of parents who are delaying or forgoing vaccinations altogether are leaving behind gaps within the blanket of immunity draped over communities. As a result, there have been many recent reports of serious disease outbreaks in the U.S. that were otherwise nearly eradicated. Things once thought under control, like measles, mumps, whooping cough (pertussis), and worst of all, bacterial meningitis once the biggest killer of children under the age of 5 are becoming more widespread and common around the nation.

Specialists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say these cases are due to a breakdown of the herd immunity.

Pediatrician Lance Rodewald, M.D., Director of CDC's Immunization Services Division, stated in a recent article that, In order for a community to be fully protected against a disease, 80 to 90 percent of its population needs to have been vaccinated.

In order for a community to be fully protected against a disease, 80 to 90 percent of its population needs to have been vaccinated. Pediatrician Lance Rodewald, M.D., Director of CDC's Immunization Services Division

The outbreak of Ebola in East Africa is just such a case, due to an overall low percentage of immunity within the community. This leaves schools, churches, markets, or neighborhoods susceptible to the disease. Babies in those affected regions who are not old enough to get the experimental Ebola vaccine are at the greatest risk of becoming sick.

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Here in the United States, the recent measles outbreaks have been linked to individuals traveling abroad to countries with higher incidence of disease without first getting vaccinated. According to the CDC, most of the 102 current cases of measles in 14 different states have been traced back to several dozen people who were exposed to the measles at Disneyland in Anaheim, California but were not vaccinated. Only five of the thirty-four infected individuals have vaccination records stating they received both doses of the measles vaccine, according to California's Department of Public Health. For a virus that generally kills 1 in every 2,000 cases, with the most frequent cases being reported in 1 out of 33,000 patients means the odds of infection shift dramatically in favor of the virus when vaccines are not used. Photo: (AP)

According to CDC's Dr. Lance Rodewald, The fact is, all of these diseases still exist some circulate in this country and others are only a plane ride away. He goes on to caution, They could easily become widespread again if more people refuse vaccines.

The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that healthy children be vaccinated against 14 diseases by the age of 2 (with booster shots going later for some) and annual inoculations against the flu. In fact, Uncle Sam believes so strongly in getting vaccinated that any uninsured child who walks into a clinic will be guaranteed his or her shots for free [reference].

Currently, 76 percent of children between the ages 3-19 were up-to-date on all their immunizations as of 2008. That number has remained stable over the past decade, but is still short of the governments goal of 80 percent.

There is a vast encouragement in all of this.

The anti-vaccine movements argument is constructed, I believe, by something comparable to instinct. Without diving into another debate over genetics and behavior, I think it is outright fair to say that the one thing everybody has in common is the instinctive need to be useful. This instinct is so strong it drives some people crazy trying to come up with ways to be helpful in their community, when, realistically, it could be something as simple as following your doctors advice when it comes to having yourself vaccinated, or your child, or pet for that matter

What do you think? Add your voice to the debate.

References / Sources

Parents.com. Vaccines: The Reality Behind the Debate. By Kelley King Heyworth. http://www.parents.com/health/vaccines/controversy/vaccines-the-reality-behind-the-debate/#comments [February 8, 2015].

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. General Recommendations on Immunization: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Recommendations and Reports (January 28, 2011) 60(RR02);1-60 http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr6002a1.htm