Discussing the safety of vaccines Part I
Vaccination has been surrounded by controversy for a long time. Some people are afraid of getting vaccinated for multiple reasons. Most often the reason is not having enough knowledge about how vaccines work and what ingredients they contain. Historically, people had a misleading perception about being injected with the same pathogen that causes the disease. However, recent focus of the vaccine controversy has shifted to the presence of additives in vaccines that can cause harmful health effects.
Vaccination has both individual and public health implications. When people decide not to vaccinate, their individual decision can affect many others as it reduces the immunity of the entire community called the “herd immunity.” When the larger population in a community becomes immune to a specific disease, this also protects the individuals who have not yet developed, or are unable to develop, immunity to the disease. Such vulnerable individuals in a population include infants, children, the elderly and people with a compromised immune system. The herd immunity is essential for a healthy society because the infants are too young to be vaccinated, the immunocompromised patients such as those receiving chemotherapy or those on other immune suppressant drugs are medically not suitable to receive vaccinations, and the elderly cannot generate a high enough immune response to offer protection. For example, 90% to 95% of the population from a community is required to be vaccinated against measles to offer protection of herd immunity to the rest of the 5% to 10% of vulnerable people.
While vaccination has a proven record to be an effective and economic way to prevent diseases, it is also essential to be aware of the safety and efficacy of vaccines, especially newly manufactured vaccines. Vaccines mimic the process of infection by introducing a small amount of, or a fragment of, a previously inactivated infectious agent (bacteria or a virus) to train the immune system to recognize it when exposed to a particular infection. Such a harmless amount of protein from a pathogen triggers the immune system to produce specialized immune cells and antibodies. These cells remember particular features from the infectious agent and if exposed to it again in the future they can quickly mount a higher antibody response, thus protecting the body from the infection and its complications. Hence, vaccines are effective in individual protection and they improve the overall health of the population due to herd immunity.
Recent vaccine controversy revolves around the vaccine additives and their side effects. Older vaccines were based on using a harmless infectious agent (antigen) to stimulate the immune system to respond. Today’s vaccines use fewer antigens but include many other additives to increase vaccine efficacy, prolong the effects, and lower the production cost of the vaccine. Many additives used in vaccines represent a compromise between a requirement of efficacy and an acceptable level of side effects. The most common additives are thimerosal (mercury), aluminum hydroxide, aluminum phosphate, calcium phosphate, formaldehyde, MSG, and many others. The presence of some chemicals relates to the manufacturing processes however, they also have a plethora of unwanted and harmful effects in the human body.
In a recently published educational review booklet by the Dr. Rath Research Institute we explored the details of the safety of vaccine additives. In the next issue of our Health Science News Page, we will discuss the importance of micronutrients required for the protection of health and to increase vaccine safety.