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Vaccination refers to the act of administering an antigenic material as a way of producing immunity to a disease. An antigen is a substance that when introduced into the body, it triggers the production of an antibody by the immune system. The antibody will in turn neutralize the antigen that is recognized as a potentially harmful invader. These foreign invaders can be cells such as bacteria or molecules such as pollen. Antigens can be of two types: "Self" antigens and "Non-Self" antigens. Self antigens are normally tolerated by the immune system, while non-self antigens are usually identified as intruders and are therefore attacked by the immune system (Guyton).
Sometimes, the immune system reacts to its own antigens, a situation referred to as autoimmunity. Any disease resulting from such an immune response is termed as an autoimmune disease. An immunogenic is a type of antigen that if injected on its own, it has the ability to provoke an adaptive immune response. The difference between an immunogenic and antigen is that while an immunogenic has the ability to induce an immune response, an antigen combines with the final products of an immune response once they are made.
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If well administered, vaccines can ameliorate or prevent the effects of infection by a pathogen, an infectious agent that causes disease to its host. Extensive research and studies have proved the efficacy of vaccines such as the influenza vaccine, the chicken pox vaccine, the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine among others. Generally, vaccination is considered to be the most efficient and cost-effective method of preventing infectious diseases.
Smallpox, an infectious and deadly disease that localizes in small blood vessels of the skin in the throat and mouth, was the first disease that people tried to prevent themselves from, by deliberately inoculating themselves with other types of infections. Inoculation of smallpox, the placement of an antigenic substance as a way of producing or boosting the body's immunity towards the disease was started before 200 BCE, in China and India (M). Cowpox vaccine was used as an immunization for smallpox in humans for the first time in 1796 by Edward Jenner, a British physician.
Since their inception, vaccination efforts have been met with some controversy on scientific, political, medical safety and ethical grounds. The scientific and medical substantiation is that the benefits of preventing suffering and death from a contagious disease outweigh the infrequent side effects of immunization. Opponents of vaccination have claimed that vaccines are, or may be dangerous and that they do not work. They additionally claim that people should rely on personal hygiene instead, and that mandatory vaccinations violate religious principles and individual rights. Since the beginning of vaccination in the late 18th century, successful campaigns against the practice have often resulted in uncalled for injuries and mass deaths (Wolfe).
Vaccines have been known to cause side effects, and the success of immunization programs heavily rely on the public's confidence in the vaccines' safety. Concerns about the safety of immunization have been seen to follow a certain pattern. First, some investigators suggest that a certain medical condition is a side effect of vaccination. This is often followed by the investigators making a premature announcement of the alleged side effect. This makes the initial study not to be repeated or reproduced by other groups, and lastly, it takes a number of years to regain public confidence in the vaccine.
Religious opponents to vaccination often argue that diseases are sent by God as a way of punishing sin and that any attempt to prevent a disease is a diabolical operation. Public policy and succeeding Vaccination Acts at first encouraged vaccination and in 1853, vaccination was made mandatory for all infants. This Vaccination Acts initially begun in the United Kingdom and they reflect the continuing squabble over the vaccination policy. The UK Vaccination Act of 1840 made inoculation illegal as it was considered dangerous, and provided optional vaccine free of charge.
This was followed by the 1853 Act that required several things, among them, that every child shall be vaccinated within three or four months of birth. Similarly, every practitioner who vaccinates a child shall send a certificate to the registrar of births that he has done so. In addition, parents or guardians of a child who, without sufficient reason omit to have the child duly vaccinated would be liable to a penalty of 1 pound.
A subsequent Vaccination Act in 1873 made vaccination compulsory. It required that a child be registered within seven days of birth and be vaccinated within three months, failure to which the parents or guardians of the child were liable to a prison sentence. A new law was passed in 1898 which removed cumulative penalties and introduced a clause allowing parents or guardians who did not believe that vaccination was safe to obtain a certificate of exemption. However, this liberty was not really obtained as the many rules imposed were not easily satisfied which only led to delays. Similar laws were later passed in the United States and other countries.
Most parents often assume that the vaccines used on their children have been subjected to thorough trials and research and re therefore safe and effective. The massive vaccination campaigns assert that vaccines are effective at preventing the illnesses that they targeted against. Additionally, parents have been told that side effects resulting from the administration of vaccines are very rare and mild and that the few severe negative reactions are carefully monitored, maintaining adverse reactions at a minimum. However, parents who take their time to dig deeper find that these assertions fall short of solid scientific backing. Not only are there multiple examples of children acquiring the same disease that they have been immunized against, but there is overpowering evidence that vaccines can be exceedingly harmful and even deadly to children.
When a person comes into contact with a communicable disease, his immune system responds through a series of reactions that produce immunity for the acquired disease. However, vaccines, which contain both dead and live viruses, are normally injected directly into the blood stream, and hence bypass the natural immune system. This deprives the body its capability to naturally develop lasting immunity to childhood diseases like mumps, chicken pox and measles (O'Shea). Opponents of mass vaccination argue that it is a manmade attempt to replace the natural infection response of the human body with a series of artificially imposed infections determined by the doctor's vaccination schedule.
Over the years, there have been growing public and professional concerns over the safety of the current childhood vaccine programs. The truth is that a vaccine, just like any other medicine, is capable of causing side effects such some of which are a result of severe allergic reactions. Vaccines have been known to cause mild problems such as fever, mild rashes and swelling of glands on the neck and cheek, problems which often disappear over time. They may also cause moderate problems which include seizures caused by fever and in rare cases may cause short-term low platelet count. Severe problems resulting from administration of vaccines are very rare, but recently, there has been growing concern about the safety of the Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR) vaccine. Cases of deafness, permanent brain damage, long-term seizures and lowered consciousness have been known to occur after children getting the MMR vaccine. Recent statistics have also shown that 60% of parents with autistic children believe that their children were damaged by this vaccine.
A well-known example of a long term effect from vaccine administration occurred with the polio vaccine which was used in the late 1950s and early 1960s. After in depth research, this vaccine was found to be contaminated with SV40, a monkey virus, which had contaminated the vaccine during production (Jones). Even with this knowledge, the government health authorities did not withdraw the administration of the vaccine but rather, it was given to American children until 1963.Thirty years later, this virus has been isolated in brain, bone and lung cancers. This vaccine catastrophe proves a direct connection between a vaccine the development of a slow-growing cancer decades after the vaccine (Atkinson).
When a new vaccine is released onto the market, it is supposed to be closely in order to track any undesired reactions from the millions of people taking it. However, not only is the adverse reporting system entirely voluntary, majority of the reactions are never reported. Even worse, reporting adverse reactions during mass vaccinations such as for smallpox vaccine is not mandatory and is often limited to an arbitrary time frame of 2-4 weeks. These reaction cases should be studied and tracked in order to honestly assess the risk of the vaccine. However, due to the poor and incomplete tracking system, researchers miss this opportunity, reflecting the shoddy science behind vaccine development.
Hepatitis B is mostly an adult disease transmitted through body fluids and blood. It is prevalent in drug users, homosexuals with multiple sexual partners and babies born to infected mothers. However, in spite of the ability of the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) ability to specifically test expectant mothers before birth and the low risk for children, it went on to add the hepatitis B vaccine to the recommended vaccination schedule. Since its introduction, there have been hundred of reports citing severe rashes, chronic fatigue, arthritis, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (Chaitow). The most disturbing fundamental question is why this vaccine was recommended for babies in the first place. Another question is why tens of millions of babies are being subjected to this vaccine when the few that are at risk of the disease can simply be identified by screening the mother. This vaccine should therefore not be administered on the day of birth, but parents should be given time to know their child first as this is the only way that they will be able to compare their child's health status prior to and after the vaccination.
As a result of the dramatic increase in the number of injuries resulting from the administration of childhood vaccines, most governments have enacted legislations to compensate parents of injured or dead children. These legislations serve to protect pharmaceutical companies from all initial liabilities. Many parents and doctors believe that the astounding increase in chronic childhood illnesses, are an effect of the dozens of vaccines that are now part of the recommended vaccine schedule for children (James).
Even when parents find out about the risks of vaccines, their doctors often assure them that the risk is worth the almost definite benefit of freedom from the contagious disease that their children receive. However, over and over again, vaccines have simply not prevented the disease their targeted at (Murphy). A 1978 analysis showed that more than half the children who contracted measles had been vaccinated against the same disease. In 1978, Sweden abandoned its whooping cough vaccine after a study showed that 84% of children diagnosed with whooping cough had been vaccinated three times. In European countries, cases of smallpox after an organized revolt by parents and doctors, who forced their governments to stop the compulsory vaccination program (Medicinenet).
With the state's compelling interest in the public health of it citizens, there is no conclusive proof that compulsory immunizations are essential in protecting the public health. Parents should therefore be provided with adequate and correct information, and additionally research more on their own, in order to make informed decisions on this issue. Parents who present a valid reason should be allowed to pull out their children out of a vaccination program without facing penalties or harassment.