The Benefits and Drawbacks of Immunization


PureInsight | December 30, 2002

An article was published in the September issue of Modern Drug Discovery that tried to rekindle an old controversy, saying that although vaccines do help prevent some fatal diseases, many parents and pediatricians are concerned about their side effects. [1]

Immunization is mandatory for newborns. Except for those states that allow religious exemption, parents have to immunize their children. In fact, a child will be denied admission to all public schools and many private schools if he or she isn't immunized. According to the current immunization plan in the United States, during the first five months of life, an infant must receive five different vaccines. Since each vaccine is given twice during this period, the total number of injections a child of this age receives is ten. Seven more vaccines will be administered before the age of two. These vaccines target 11 diseases, including Hepatitis B, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, Haemophilus influenzae type b, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox and Pneumococcus.

During the development of vaccines, their introduction helped decrease the incidence of some potentially fatal diseases, such as tetanus, diphtheria, polio, measles and smallpox. However, since the mid 1970's, more and more adverse reactions were reported. People began to pay attention to the safety problem of vaccines. These adverse reactions included nerve damage caused by the injection of the DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) vaccine. The United States Congress passed a bill in 1986, which required medical doctors to inform parents of both the positive and negative effects of vaccines before their children were inoculated. The bill also required that doctors promptly report any observed side effects of vaccines.

Reports of the side effects of vaccines accumulated. In 1998, in an article published in the prominent journal Lancet, British scientist Andrew Wakefield reported that injection of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine might be associated with autism. [2] Some parents said that their children showed certain autistic symptoms after injection of this vaccine but this has not been confirmed after several years of attempts.

Further study revealed that improperly produced vaccines could cause abnormal d immune responses, which resulted in nervous system damage. Additionally, the antiseptic agents packaged with the vaccines contained mercury. The harm this can cause children cannot be ignored.

While the side effects of vaccines were noted, scientists encountered unprecedented difficulties in vaccine discovery. For example, statistics show that 300 to 500 million people throughout the world suffer from malaria and 1 million die of it each year. But the search for a malaria vaccine has not been successful. The early October issue of Nature magazine published the genome sequence of Plasmodium falciparum, the pathologic organism of malaria, while Science published the genome sequence of the mosquito that is the host of the pathogen. [4] Many people were excited about this. However, based on a report by Reuters, some vaccine experts believe that it will take dozens of years to really have a breakthrough in vaccine research even with the information of the two genomes because of the great variability in the actual strain of the microorganisms that cause the disease. [5]

Dr. Rabinovitch, a pediatrician and a research leader for the search for a malaria vaccine, said, "The new findings have little to do with our research…People are still investigating how to link the information of genomes to vaccine research. Plasmodium falciparum is very complicated and variable, which makes the research even more difficult." Dr. Rabinovitch used to study a vaccine called spf66. Initially, it looked promising. However, after further study, the results were disappointing.

From ancient times till today, people have wanted to be healthy and happy. Yet, it is so difficult to achieve either. When science makes advances, people count on it to heal diseases and make them happy. The discovery and development of vaccines gave people some initial encouragement. It looked like a few shots could protect us from deadly infectious diseases. However, the difficulties of vaccine research and the side effects of current vaccines make us ponder the old question again, "Why do people get ill?" Why do some of us have to take drugs to control illness, while others do not?

Translated from

2. Wakefield AJ, Murch SH et al. Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Lancet. 1998 Feb 28; 351(9103):637-41.
3. Gardner MJ, Hall N et al. Genome sequence of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.
Nature. 2002 Oct 3;419(6906):498-511.
4. Holt RA, Subramanian GM et al. The genome sequence of the malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae.
Science. 2002 Oct 4;298(5591):129-49.

Add new comment