Parents are already aware of the importance of immunization to their babies’ health and well-being.
Mothers, in particular, are cognizant of the fact that although they were able to fortify their newborn babies with an inborn immunity (in the form of antibodies) against diseases at the time of their birth, this immunity lasts only as long as the first year of their babies’ lives. After the first year, their babies become preys to diseases.
After the first year, therefore, their babies should already be immunized if they would like them to remain healthy and disease-free. Immunization means that their babies are given vaccines which contain small amounts of “dead, weakened, or purified components” of bacteria and viruses for the purpose of inciting their immune system to produce the antibodies needed to fight back.
This experience allows the babies’ immune system to put up an adequate defense when the real attack occurs sometime in the future (Health Canada).
However, a heated debate is now going on concerning the safety of vaccines, specifically the MMR vaccine which has been in use against mumps, measles, and rubella (or German measles). This particular vaccine had been enjoying a reputation of being very effective and safe since 1971.
Before its use, measles was afflicting children all over the world, threatening them with very dangerous complications including encephalitis which could damage their brains for the rest of their lives. As a matter of fact, when a major outbreak of measles occurred in the United States sometime between 1990 and 1991, hospital admissions accounted for 20% of all children afflicted with the disease.
To make matters worse, one out of every 400 of those children died of the disease. Thanks to the MMR vaccine, the incidence of measles in the United States dropped by as much as 99% (Baker and Clements).
Unfortunately, allegations that the MMR vaccine causes autism among children rocked the world in 1997 when Andrew Wakefield, a British researcher, published his findings about a causal relationship between MMR and autism. In his article, he stated that several children “developed signs of autism and intestinal symptoms” after they were immunized with the MMR vaccine.
As soon as the rest of the British media circulated his findings, British parents became really worried. In fact, their worry turned into fear which resulted to a drastic drop in the rate of MMR vaccination in the United Kingdom which, in turn, caused the recurrence of measles outbreak in the country (Baker and Clements).
Observers believed that talk of an autism epidemic which started circulating in the United Kingdom during the 1980s after an increase of autism cases was recorded, intensified during the 1990s and helped fuel this fear among British parents.
The fact that the vaccine was only introduced in the country in 1988 could only have made matters worse. American medical practitioners could not help but question Wakefield’s report, considering the fact that no such claim was made in the United States ever since the vaccine was introduced in the country in 1971.
Some people even cited a similar situation in the United Kingdom which occurred in 1978 and in 1982 when claims that the vaccine against whooping cough “carried a significant risk of brain damage.”
According to them, when that claim circulated in the country, parents also stopped immunizing their children. The result was that the British Isles experienced an epidemic of whooping cough (Baker and Clements).
Wakefield’s findings, however, was contradicted by the result of a study which was made in Japan. While Wakefield’s study was conducted among children who were immunized with the MMR vaccine, the study which was conducted by Hideo Honda of the Yokohama Rehabilitation Center and his collaborators Yasuo Shimizu and Michael Rutter who were from the Institute of Psychiatry in London was conducted in Japan when the MMR vaccine was no longer in use in the country.
Japan stopped using the vaccine sometime in 1993 when reports started circulating that the vaccine’s anti-mumps component caused meningitis in Japanese children. Honda’s team scrutinized the records of 31,426 children who were born in 1988 (before the vaccine was withdrawn) and in 1996 (after the withdrawal of the MMR vaccine from Japan).
They found that there were 48 to 86 incidents of autism for every 10,000 children who were born in 1988 before the vaccine was withdrawn. However, after the withdrawal of the vaccine, Honda and his colleagues found that autism cases rose to 97 to 161 for every 10,000 children, indicating a rise in the incidence of autism.
Honda and his team, therefore, concluded that Wakefield’s claim of a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism was without scientific basis (Coghlan).