The Importance of Global Vaccinations: An FAQ for the Anti-Vaccine Crowd

When I became a Shot@Life Champion, I did so because I believe it is important to give kids around the world a fighting chance at life. Shot@Life – an initiative of the United Nations – helps provide vaccinations against polio, rotavirus, measles, and pneumonia for children worldwide. So I started sharing information from my Shot@Life training,  and I couldn’t believe some of the pushback I got from the anti-vaccination crowd. So I thought I’d put together a handy little Q&A cheat sheet so I don’t have to type up my responses to the same questions/criticisms every time. Yes, I’m calling this an FAQ, even though not everything is technically a question.

Line up for immunizations

Don’t vaccinations cause autism?

No. They don’t. The study that started this horrible misinformation was a fraudulent study conducted by Andrew Wakefield. Data was falsified in his 1998 study. Wakefield’s co-authors withdrew their names when they discovered he’d been paid over 435,000 GBP ($674,000) by lawyers who planned to sue vaccine manufacturers. And boy, did their investment pay off. The vaccine scare his sham of a study created drummed up plenty of business for personal injury lawyers. Of course, all of those kids who didn’t get vaccinated because of the scare ended up causing an outbreak of measles in the UK. A definitive study has proven that a full vaccine schedule has no bearing on whether or not a child has autism.

But vaccines do hurt people! They’re poison!

I can’t think of a single thing on Earth that is 100% safe. We need water to live, and yet we can drown in it, or even die of water poisoning! Sadly, yes, there can be a bad batch of vaccines – just like there can be bad batches of lifesaving antibiotics – and some people are prone to having terrible reactions to some of the substances used in vaccines. But let’s look at the data from a purely objective perspective: numbers.

A total of 14,629 cases of vaccine injury were reported from 1988-2013, a 25-year period. This includes cases that were dismissed as groundless. In 2008, one year alone, nearly 8.8 million children under the age of 5 died of vaccine-preventable illnesses. To put that into perspective, over 600 times as many children died from illnesses that could have been prevented with a vaccine in a single year than there were vaccine injuries – most of which were not fatal – in 25 years. That is a 15,000:1 ratio of children vaccines could have saved versus vaccines that harmed anyone in any way. The odds are in favor of saving lives, not ruining them.

We don’t need to get kids vaccinated. No one gets polio anymore!

This statement is partially correct. U.S. children don’t get polio. The only places in the world that get polio anymore are where they are not getting vaccinated against it. Since the introduction of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988, polio cases have declined by 99%.  The number of worldwide cases of polio have declined from over 300,000 annually to just over 200 annually, thanks to the global vaccine initiative. The reason we don’t have polio in the U.S. anymore is because vaccines have been so successful at eliminating the threat. Full eradication of the disease is attainable in our lifetime, only the second disease behind smallpox.

Community Immunity ("Herd" Immunity)

For the record, my father-in-law had polio as a child. Doctors told his mother he would never walk again. Her reaction was, hell no. I don’t know what exactly she did, but her brand of homemade physical therapy worked, and he can walk just fine. Children in developing nations don’t have access to the same resources – basic healthcare, sanitation, and nutrition – that we have in the United States, and being unable to walk is practically a death sentence in itself when you are unable to contribute to your own survival.

Yeah, I get it. Polio is bad. Pneumonia though? We can cure that with antibiotics.

It’s not that simple. In this great country of ours with all of our advances in medicine and whatnot, I’ve nearly died of pneumonia myself. Twice. I was born with pneumonia, and a nurse with a notable lack of bedside manner told my mom, who was also sick, that they hadn’t expected me to live through the night. There was no NICU back then, but I spent the first weeks of my life in an incubator. I had a spinal tap the day I was born. And I got pneumonia again when I was in elementary school. My fever was dangerously high, and my family was worried they were going to lose me.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children worldwide. About 1.2 million children under the age of 5 die of pneumonia each year – more than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. Only about 30% of children with pneumonia receive the antibiotics they need. This is why it’s so important to boost prevention, not just treatment.

Okay, fine. Pneumonia is bad, too. But rotavirus? Come on. Diarrhea doesn’t kill anyone.

Wanna bet? The outcome of rotavirus is much different in the developing world (not the US) because of the availability of clean water and medical treatment. It may not be a big deal in the U.S., but nearly half a million children died of rotavirus worldwide in 2008. Let’s not forget that the risk we run with diarrhea is dehydration, even here in the U.S. If a child get rotavirus in an area that does not have adequate access to clean water, it kills.

Shouldn’t we be focusing on providing clean water and all those other things instead of throwing vaccines at people?

There are programs in place to bring these boons of civilization to developing parts of the world, but you can’t just magically wave your hands and give people clean water. It takes time to find an adequate source, dig the irrigation channels, and install water treatment mechanisms. It doesn’t happen overnight. The same problem applies to offering proper nutrition to starving areas; it takes time to make the land arable and train people to raise the crops and animals that will help them survive. But children are dying now and can’t wait for years until international aid arrives to solve the problems of food, water, sanitation, and proper healthcare. With organizations like Shot@Life providing lifesaving vaccines now, children’s lives are being saved now – and later.

But we shouldn’t be spending money overseas when there are people in our own country who are sick, hungry, or otherwise needy.

I used to think the exact same thing. And I do still agree that we need to help people here at home. But less than 1% of the U.S. budget is spent on global health initiatives, and only a small fraction of that is spent on vaccines. “Americans spend more on ice cream in three weeks than the U.S. government spends each year on global health.” Just $5 can protect a child against polio for life. Just $20 can protect a child from the four deadliest diseases: pneumonia, rotavirus, measles, and polio. Small individual donations can save lives. Oh, and vaccinations can provide $151 billion in economic benefits over a nine year period.

I still think vaccines are bad.

Then you are coming from a place that is not backed by science, data, and statistics; you are coming from a place rooted in emotion. And I will never be able to talk logic to you to change your mind. You can be on your way now.

Christina Gleason (973 Posts)

That’s me: Christina Gleason. I’m a professional copywriter, editor, and blogger. My company is called Phenomenal Content. (Hire me!) I'm a multiply disabled autistic woman doing my best in this world built for abled people. I’m a geek for grammar, fantasy, and select types of gaming, including Twitch Sings and Plants vs Zombies 2. I hate vegetables. I have an intense phone phobia, so I’ll happily conduct business over email or IM instead.

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  1. best, most succinct post ive seen on vaccines in ages – bravo!

  2. Thank you!! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I read sanity and logic here. No emotional, un-backed lies or blathering!!

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