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To the editor - Do we have an ethics issue?

April 24, 2015
From the April 2015 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

The anti-vaccination group argues that the MMR vaccine can lead to autism along with unknown long-term effects that any vaccine might have on the body. It is estimated that about one in 68 children are diagnosed with some form of autism today according to the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. That is an increase of more than 100 percent since the condition started to receive heavy documentation in medical literature during the 1940s.

Measles-related deaths decreased significantly even in the years immediately preceding mass vaccination efforts, likely due to better nutrition and improvements in health care. The anti-vaccination group believes that very little of the decrease in the death rate has anything to do with medicine and in fact, believe the vaccine can cause significant harm. Some of this belief is founded in a paper originally published in the Lancet in 1998, but retracted by the publication 12 years later, after ethical violations against the doctor that researched and authored the study were brought to light, including practicing unneeded invasive procedures on children and getting funded, in part, by lawyers representing parents who were seeking to sue vaccine manufacturers. Yet, the misinformation continues. There continue to be studies with results that researchers can’t replicate, linking vaccines to autism and more.

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Which camp is ethically right and which is wrong? Individuals feel that they should be able to choose not to vaccinate because of their concerns about the MMR vaccine’s possible effect on their children; on the other hand, there are people young and old whose lives depend on herd immunity to protect them, because they themselves cannot be vaccinated.

For herd immunity to be effective, a large percentage of that given population has to be immunized, either through vaccines or through having already acquired the disease in question. The percentage of the population having immunity differs from disease to disease, but across the board, it requires the vast majority to be immunized. Ideally, every healthy person in a population would be immunized, helping to provide a level of protection for the aforementioned individuals who, for whatever reason, can’t be vaccinated.

Having pockets of unvaccinated individuals basically leads to a breakdown in this group protection. For example, in this current measles outbreak the majority of those affected have not had the MMR vaccination.

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