Listing vaccine ingredients and understanding them. There's a difference.
Apr 07, 2011
Unfortunately, the vaccination rate in the state of Maine has declined from 90% to less than 80% in the past 10 years. Now, two vaccine bills may further threaten vaccine rates in the state.
Federal law already requires that patients receive a fact sheet, prior to receiving a vaccine, that lists the potential risks and reactions that may occur. However, the new Maine bill being proposed will also require that patients receive a specific list of ingredients for each vaccine.
Additionally, while immunizations are not mandatory, and parents can currently seek exemptions for their children if they so desire, the second bill being considered specifically prohibits mandatory immunizations.
On the one hand, you have the bill supporters, most of which are parents who believe that vaccines are unsafe. On the other hand, you have pediatricians, pediatric nurses and the Maine Medical Association who argue that “the illnesses we are vaccinating for can kill you”, that “forcing doctors to hand out a list of ingredients would alarm people unnecessarily” and that the FDA already spends “enormous money and effort to determine the safety of vaccines”.
While I certainly understand how full disclosure may seem completely reasonable, there are some concerns to address. Fortunately, vaccines are developed by scientists who have an intimate knowledge of each ingredient, the dose of each ingredient, and how they react with one another to create the desired effect on the human immune system. While I may read food labels to help me avoid eating processed foods, the same principle can’t be applied to vaccines. Each ingredient in a vaccine has a purpose, and that purpose is to illicit a specific response.
Now, that is not to say that parents don’t have the right to know what is contained in the vaccine. They absolutely do and that information is readily available. But the question is…do parents have the specific scientific knowledge to understand the need for each ingredients and how they are combined to create safe and effective vaccines?
In an alarming example, consider the way in which these vaccine bills were reported in the local Maine newspaper. The author cites two specific ingredients – aluminum and formaldehyde – as ingredients of concern. Of course, these may sound a bit frightening at first. But let’s consider a few basic facts that many parents may not already know.
First, aluminum is one of the most common metals found in nature and is already an integral part of our everyday environment, found in our air, water, soil and food, as well as in breast milk and infant formula. Apparently, if this new bill passes, doctors will need to spend a great deal of time explaining that aluminum, found in certain childhood vaccines, is used to create a better and more prolonged immune response in the body. They will also need to explain that healthy babies quickly eliminate aluminum from their bodies without harmful effects, and that the quantity of aluminum in vaccines in small. For example, in the first six months of life, babies receive about 4 milligrams of aluminum if they get all of the recommended vaccines. However, during this same period they will ingest about 10 milligrams if they’re breastfed, 40 milligrams if they are formula fed, and up to 120 milligrams if they are fed a soy-based formula. Certainly, no one suggests withholding food from infants for fear of aluminum.
Then there’s the concern raised about formaldehyde. The article specifically demonstrates how this ingredient can be used to evoke fear by describing is as an “embalming fluid”. When referenced this way, with no other explanation, it’s understandable that parents would be concerned. It sounds down- right nasty and unnecessary. But that’s only if you don’t understand the small amount that is used and why. Doctors and nurses will now need to explain to parents that formaldehyde in used to inactive viruses (like polio and hepatitis A viruses) or bacterial toxins (like diphtheria and tetanus). Most of the formaldehyde is purified away during manufacturing, however small quantities may remain. Oh, and by the way, they can explain that formaldehyde is a by-product of our body’s own metabolism, so it is already present in a child’s bloodstream. In fact, the quantity of formaldehyde found in the blood is 10 times greater than that found in any vaccine. Not to mention, that there are already high levels of inhalable formaldehyde vapors which occur through “off-gassing” in the environment we live in everyday of our lives.
If a parent takes the time to truly understand the way in which vaccines are manufactured and tested, the reasoning behind each ingredient and the amount of each ingredients, it is my hope that they will appreciate the science behind vaccines and the way in which vaccines prevent the spread of serious diseases. However, according to recent research conducted at Michigan State University, only about 28% of American adults currently qualify as scientifically literate. (By the way, to be classified as “scientifically literate,” for this study, one must be able to understand approximately 20 of 31 scientific concepts and terms similar to those found in articles that appear in the New York Times weekly science section and in an episode of the PBS program “NOVA.”)
I find this statistic a bit alarming. Especially when you consider the information in tandem with the suggestion of the Maine vaccine bill. Can we honestly expect doctors and nurses in the field to be able to adequately educate each parent, regarding each ingredient in each vaccine? I’ll admit that it would be a wonderful world if everyone had a better understanding regarding the science behind vaccines, however I can see why the medical professionals in Maine are opposed to this bill. It will be painstakingly difficult to practice.
So the question remains, if the medical experts and scientists have reviewed the research on vaccine ingredients and safety, do we need to provide a unsolicited list of ingredients, or will we just serve to unnecessarily alarm and confuse parents?
As for the second bill being proposed, the arguement against this bill is that vaccinations are not mandatory because exemptions already exist. However, the Maine bill attacks the one time when the government may actually choose to mandate immunizations – and that would be in a state of emergency, such as during a biological terrorism attack. Having a husband with 28 years of military service, I respect the fact that we, as a nation, should be vigilant against biological terrorism. I recognize this as a real threat that I for one expect our government to protect us from. But perhaps I’ve read too many Tom Clancy novels in my youth. Perhaps this is a hypothetical situation that we will never know in real life.
I wonder, where will these bill supporters stand then? Will they be lining up to get vaccinated if there is a biological war? Perhaps, once it is not required, they will actually consider asking for it?
But, I hope we never have to find out.
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