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A Brief Look at the Vaccine Debate

A Brief Look at the Vaccine Debate

Posted Aug 27, 2015 by Jenifer Dorsey

With back-to-school season upon us, vaccines are on many families’ minds. It is a common time for kids to get their immunization shots. Vaccines are intended to protect children from serious diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, polio, and meningitis, among many others.   

However, immunizations for children are not without controversy. Some parents oppose them. With a resurgence of diseases such as pertussis (whooping cough), mumps and measles in recent years1,2,3 the debate has been front and center—especially following last winter’s Disneyland measles outbreak in 125 measles cases were confirmed among U.S. residents in an outbreak linked between two Disney theme parks in Orange County, Calif.4 

Why are vaccines considered important?  

Vaccines immunize the public from many serious diseases—many of which have been become increasingly rare in the United States due to vaccinations.5 Vaccinations build individual and societal immunity. They prevent individuals from becoming infected by serious and potentially deadly diseases as well as from spreading them.6 

Why not rely on natural immunity?  

As explained on MayoClinic.org, natural infections often provide “more complete immunity than a series of vaccinations,” but they come with risks.7 For instance, polio can cause permanent paralysis. Getting vaccinated can help prevent people from getting these diseases and risking their potentially serious side effects, according to Mayo. 

What are the arguments against vaccination?  

Those who oppose immunization by vaccine do so for a myriad of philosophical and religious reasons. There are also many safety concerns surrounding vaccines. One that has arguably been most prominent in recent years is that childhood vaccines cause autism.  

Are vaccines safe?

Public health and medical organizations such as the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics assure us that vaccination is safe. In general, vaccines may cause side minor side effects such as a low-grade fever within two weeks of being administered; about 1 in 100 people report more severe reactions such as pneumonia within six months.8 Different vaccines will present different side effects.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the CDC and others, vaccines do not cause autism and the study that originally sparked the debate has been retracted.9,10 Studies conducted in 2011 and 2013 confirmed that vaccines do not cause autism; the 2011 report on eight vaccines given to children found that, with rare exceptions, they were “very safe.”11   

On its website, Autism Speaks includes statements from both its CEO and co-founder explaining that extensive research shows vaccines do not cause autism and encouraging parents to fully vaccinate their children.12 

“Parents must make the decision whether to vaccinate their children,” Autism Speaks co-founder Bob Wright is quoted as saying on the website. “Efforts must be continually made to educate parents about vaccine safety. If parents decide not to vaccinate they must be aware of the consequences in their community and their local schools.” 

Parents must independently research this topic, discuss concerns with healthcare providers and make decisions. Of course, there may be health issues or allergies that mean some individuals should not be vaccinated or should wait to be vaccinated. In these circumstances your healthcare provider will help determine if and when a vaccine is appropriate. 

Where can you find state vaccine laws and school immunization requirements? 

This information is available through your state health department—click on this CDC map for a link to your state health department website’s immunization page. 

You can also visit the National Vaccine Information Center and click on your state to find state laws, school and daycare information, as well as details on state vaccination exemptions due to medical, religious and philosophical reasons.  

The National Conference of State Legislatures is another resource for school immunization requirements and non-medical exemptions (i.e., religious and philosophical) from school immunization requirements by state. 

If you have questions about immunization requirements for your child’s school or daycare, contact the specific establishment your child attends. 


Corum, Jonathan, et al. “Facts About the Measles Outbreak.” The New York Times. Feb. 6, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/02/02/us/measles-facts.html?_r=0 

Haelle, Tara. “Vaccination Opt-Outs Found to Contribute to Whooping Cough Outbreaks in Kids.” Scientific American. Oct. 2, 2013. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/vaccination-opt-outs-found-to-contribute-to-whooping-cough-outbreaks-in-kids/  

Haelle, Tara. “Four New Mumps Cases Diagnosed in Outbreak at University of Texas at Austin.” Forbes. May 5, 2015. http://www.forbes.com/sites/tarahaelle/2015/05/20/four-new-mumps-cases-diagnosed-in-outbreak-at-university-of-texas-austin/ 

Zipprich, Jennifer, et al. “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: Measles Outbreak — California, December 2014–February 2015.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Feb, 20, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6406a5.htm?s_cid=mm6406a5_w 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Why Immunize?” Last updated Sept. 23, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/why.htm 

Vaccines.gov. “Five Important Reasons to Vaccinate Your Child.” http://www.vaccines.gov/more_info/features/five-important-reasons-to-vaccinate-your-child.html 

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Childhood Vaccines: Tough Questions, Straight Answers.” March 8, 2013. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/vaccines/art-20048334?pg=2 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Possible Side Effects from Vaccines.” Last updated June 11, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/side-effects.htm 

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Childhood Vaccines: Tough Questions, Straight Answers.” March 8, 2013. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/vaccines/art-20048334?pg=2

10 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism.” March 17, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/autism/ 

11 Ibid. 

12 Autism Speaks. “Vaccines and Autism.” https://www.autismspeaks.org/science/policy-statements/information-about-vaccines-and-autism 

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