Health Trends > Anti-Vaccination

List ISHAR Online Sources: Health Trends > Anti-Vaccination



Functional Summary


  • Materia Medica

Abstaining from vaccination from disease out of concern for safety or for religious reasons.


  • Prevention

 Religious beliefs have been cited, as well as beliefs in unverified studies claiming that vaccination could lead to some negative condition or another. 


  • Western

Most documented cases of resistance to vaccinations have happened in Europe and the United States


Topic Summary

Since the implementation of vaccinations in England and North America in the early 18th century, protests of various kinds have been made against its use. Early Christians argued that to vaccinate would be to work actively against God’s will. Other religious protestations against vaccination deal with the fact that some vaccines use the embryonic cells of aborted babies. Use of such treatment would be considered support of the practice of abortion.

While vaccines are better regulated and generally safer today, several mishaps have taken place which caused people to be wary of vaccines. In 1890, tuberculin was developed and used as a vaccine, resulting in serious reactions and deaths by reactivating patient’s latent tuberculosis. The introduction of antitoxin treatment in the early 20th century for diphtheria sometimes resulted in hypersensitivity, or intolerance. One batch of antitoxin was contaminated with tetanus, and killed 13 children. Finally, in 1955, 120,000 doses of polio vaccine produced by Cutter Laboratories were distributed which contained live polio virus, causing 40,000 cases of polio, 53 cases of paralysis, and five deaths. The disease spread creating a polio epidemic.

A common belief among anti-vaccination supporters, or anti-vaxxers, is that childhood vaccinations could lead to a number of illnesses, including autism, sudden infant death syndrome, diabetes, asthma, seizures, and learning disorders. However, none of these beliefs have been proven in any scientific studies. A famous study by Andrew Wakefield in 1998 claiming that the MMR vaccine caused autism, was proven to be a hoax and retracted by the medical journal in which it was published. Despite the study’s retraction, Wakefield’s ban from the continued practice of medicine in the UK, and the failure of scientists to reproduce the results of the study, many people continue to believe that vaccines cause autism.

Infectious diseases that were once rare in the United States have been making a comeback recently. In recent years, pertussis -- also known as whooping cough -- has returned to the headlines. A measles outbreak that struck a Texas megachurch community late last summer sickened 21 people. And just recently, at least 16 people got sick during a measles outbreak in Ohio. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported 13 measles outbreaks so far in 2014 -- the most since 1996.

The diseases are highly contagious, but they are also preventable; two of the many recommended childhood vaccinations protect against measles and pertussis. In fact, measles had once been considered effectively eliminated in the United States.

Although it's a complex problem, health officials say one key culprit is that more and more people are choosing not to get their kids vaccinated against these diseases. Substandard vaccination rates create an opening for outbreaks, which often start when an unvaccinated person catches the disease while traveling abroad and spreads the illness to friends and family upon returning.

CDC data show that vaccination rates are now above 90 percent range for several routine vaccines, including the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and whooping cough vaccines. Public health officials target a 90 percent vaccination rate for most routine childhood vaccines. Experts say that a population has "herd immunity" when enough people are vaccinated to prevent a disease from taking hold. This chart shows how vaccination rates climbed after VFC's enactment:

Credit: U.S. CDC. DTP/DTaP: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis or diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis; MMR: measles, mumps, and rubella; Hib: Haemophilus influenzae type b; Hep B: hepatitis B; PCV: pneumococcal conjugate vaccine; RV: rotavirus vaccine; Hep A: hepatitis A.

Despite relatively high overall vaccinations, rates aren't geographically uniform. Public-health experts say that high non-vaccination or exemption rates can occur among pockets of people, particularly at the county or city level. And some research has found that outbreaks are far more likely to happen in these pockets, such as during the recent whooping cough outbreaks in California.

new study from CDC researchers led by Anne Schuchat analyzed what happened to disease rates as childhood vaccination rates increased starting in the early 1990s. The researchers used these findings to model the resulting effect over the kids' lifetimes. In the analysis, the researchers factored in most routine vaccines recommended for children below age 6 (among them the MMR and whooping cough vaccines). Their findings: Routine childhood vaccinations given between 1994 and 2013 will save 732,000 lives and prevent 322 million cases of illness and 21 million hospitalizations over the course of the children's lifetimes.

The CDC researchers also weighed the benefits of the vaccinations ("savings in direct and indirect costs that accrued from averting illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths") against costs ("program costs included vaccine, administration, vaccine adverse events, and parent travel and work time lost"). In 2009 alone, the researchers determined, each $1 spent on vaccines and their administration yielded $10 in benefits to society. And the vaccinations from 1994-2013, the researchers found, will save society a net $1.38 trillion, both directly (by reducing health expenses) and indirectly (via the economic activity that is saved from avoided illnesses). That's almost 10 percent of the U.S. economy's gross domestic product, while the costs of vaccines themselves are one of the lowest common medical expenses.


Research Summary

A study published in 1956 on the safety and effectiveness of polio vaccine in California concluded, among other things, that in 1955 the incidence of paralytic poliomyelitis was around 60% less in vaccinated children that in unvaccinated children. This particular study specifically compared vaccines from Cutter industries to vaccines from other producers, and reviewed newly approved production methods as being safe and effective.

Research published in 1979 evaluated the impact of flu immunization on pregnant women and their infants. It found that while antibodies are passively transferred from mother to child, the levels of antibodies in the infants rapidly declined after birth. The study postulated that the immunization of pregnant women could provide sufficient protection in newborns if a more potent vaccine were used, with subsequent booster dosages, and if the women give birth prior to, or during flu season.

Finally, a study conducted from 2009 to 2011 and published in 2015, examined the efficacy and safety of a malaria vaccine in infants and children in Africa, both with and without booster doses. It concluded that the vaccine did prevent a significant number of cases of malaria when administered with or without a booster dose, however, efficacy was enhanced by booster doses in both age groups.

Groups and activists such as celebrity Jenny McCarthy have repeatedly claimed that vaccines cause autism. This vaccine-autism concern may be causing a drop in childhood vaccination rates in many communities, including in affluent, well-educated ones.

Anti-vaccine activists often hang their case on a study published in the British journal The Lancet in 1998. This study, which posited a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, was widely discredited by the scientific community and eventually retracted. But the anti-vaccine movement has still gained steam.

Anti-vaccine activists have also raised concerns about vaccines made with the mercury-based preservative known as thimerosal, which they worry could cause brain damage in developing kids. It's true that vaccines once routinely contained thimerosal, which government officials recognized as generally safe. But this preservative has been phased out of nearly all vaccines as a precautionary measure.

Anti-vaccine activists also worry that the CDC's recommended vaccination schedule could overwhelm infants' immune systems by packing too many doses into a short period of time. Although the number of vaccinations that kids receive now is higher than it used to be, the main ingredients in the vaccines have actually decreased in amount. Even if these ingredient amounts hadn't decreased, research has found no relationship between those amounts and autism risk.

Vaccines do carry a risk of side effects, but they are usually minor. The CDC has concluded from reviewing the scientific evidence that there's no causal link between childhood vaccinations and autism.


Sources Cited



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