By Dr. Kyle Smart, DO, Chief Medical Officer
Cucamonga Valley Medical Group
Lately, vaccines have become a topic of public discussion — and an often-heated topic at that!
These discussions have been fueled by severe influenza (flu) infections, an outbreak of measles and a recent study out of Denmark that confirms in the Annals of Internal Medicine that the MMR vaccine does not cause autism.
Our goal is to educate the patients and staff of Cucamonga Valley Medical Group (CVMG), to raise awareness to issues on both sides of the discussion. We want to help people make an informed decision about vaccinations.
Common Misconception: We Don’t Need Vaccines
Vaccines work. They’ve done their job. Unfortunately, this success rate has led to the misconception that we don’t need vaccinations.
We stand on the foundation set by recent-past generations. Those generations suffered through rampant disease and enthusiastically embraced the inception of vaccinations.
Historically, the more that people used vaccines to protect themselves from various diseases caused by bacteria and viruses, the less those diseases spread. This led to fewer outbreaks and more containment of the disease.
This “herd immunity” meant that as long as a significant portion of the population or community are immune to a disease, specifically through vaccination, the whole community or population is better protected — even those who aren’t vaccinated.
However, if too many people aren’t vaccinated, they increase their risk as well as the risk of those around them to contract and spread harmful viruses and bacteria. Specifically, this includes those who cannot receive vaccines and those who chose not to vaccinate.
Collectively, we’re not confronted by the real devastation of these once unchecked diseases and have forgotten the fear that once compelled entire countries to work together to discover groundbreaking solutions.
It wasn’t too long ago when survival was paramount and people would have given anything to have what we so easily take for granted in vaccinations.
Resistance to Receive Vaccinations: Common Questions Answered
Resistance to receive vaccinations is not a new matter, discussion or argument. Nor is the tension between the two sides.
As long as there have been vaccines, there have been those who have opposed them.
History shows that the reactions to various stances on vaccines have ranged from unfriending someone on Facebook, to family strife, to in some extreme instances, overt death threats.
To vaccinate or not should be based on an informed decision. It’s difficult to know which information to trust, as both sides have muddied the waters by promoting partial truths.
Though we are pro-vaccine at CVMG, we do acknowledge that they aren’t perfect. We do, however, believe that the good outweighs the bad despite the common questions and complaints that are voiced by anti-vaccinators.
To help you gain a better understanding, we’re highlighting a few examples.
Do vaccines cause autism?
This myth began its circulation in 1997 when British surgeon Andrew Wakefield published a study that linked vaccines to an increased risk of autism.
The article suggested that the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine (MMR) was the source of increased cases of autism in British children.
Since then, the claims that were made in this article have been completely discredited. However, the widespread theory that MMR causes autism still runs rampant.
Thanks to continued studies and due diligence, recent research has again shown that MMR does not cause autism.
Do vaccines contain thimerosal?
Small amounts of thimerosal, a mercury-containing compound, are used in vaccines as a preservative.
When we think about mercury, the idea of mercury poisoning comes to mind. This type of poisoning is a result of eating too much cooked and/or raw fish (sushi).
Due to public criticism, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) worked with vaccine companies to create thimerosal-free vaccines, which led pro-vaccinators to incorrectly claim that there is no mercury in today’s vaccines.
Just as there are small amounts of fat, sugar, and calories in fat-free, sugar-free, and calorie-free food products, there are small amounts of thimerosal (approximately 25 micrograms) in some vaccines that state they are thimerosal-free.
The amount of mercury, even when different vaccines are given at the same time, is safe and should not deter a person from getting vaccinated.
Are fetuses used to make vaccines?
Similarly, some non-vaccinators claim that fetuses are used in the making of vaccines.
This is as misleading as the term thimerosal-free.
The implication that vaccine companies continually harvest fetuses for the making of vaccines is absolutely false.
The truth is that two human cell lines from aborted fetuses during the rubella epidemic of the 1960s are still being used today to grow the viruses that are used in some vaccines.
There appears to be both ethical and medical concerns with the reality that human cell lines are used in the creation of some vaccines.
Medically speaking, even though there are filtration processes to extract only the viruses from the human cell culture medium, there are still small amounts of DNA, DNA fragments, and other human proteins in the vaccines.
The long term effects of this practice has not been studied, which has raised yet more concern in giving vaccines (As a note, there is a similar concern and research being done for blood transfusions and bone marrow transfusions).
From an ethical point of view, I can understand how people may have an internal, ethical dilemma about using cell lines from aborted fetuses.
This reality will undoubtedly be a factor in some people’s making an informed decision about vaccinations. It may help by explaining a few of the reasons why human cell lines were used in the first place.
Why are human cell lines used in vaccines?
In short, the Macaque monkey populations, the Simian Virus 40, and congenital rubella syndrome all played a role.
Let me explain.
Some of the diseases which we use vaccines to prevent are caused by viruses and others by bacteria.
Bacteria are relatively easy to grow in a lab environment, whereas viruses are more difficult to grow.
Although viruses grow best in people, scientists were able to grow some viruses in animals, such as growing polio in Macaque monkeys.
Many monkeys were sacrificed in the name of polio research and for polio vaccine efforts. In other words, there was so much public pressure from the fear of polio that scientists were trying everything, both animal and human vector research, to grow, study, and stop polio.
In fact, Dr. John Enders and his research team at Children’s Hospital in Boston were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954 for growing the polio virus from skin and muscle tissue from a human embryo.
Some scientists were pursuing human tissue research, others were pursuing animal tissue research and just as concerns started to rise for the Macaque monkey population, Simian Virus 40 was discovered.
In 1960, Maurice Hilleman and his team discovered the Simian Virus 40 (SV 40) in the monkey kidney cells that were being used to grow the polio virus for vaccination.
SV 40 is a virus that infects monkeys, but Hilleman was able to show that SV 40 could cause tumor growth in hamsters. At the time there was concern that millions of people who received the vaccine were also infected with SV 40 that could potentially cause illness or cancer.
Thankfully, no study has ever linked SV 40 to human cancers. The concept of a virus causing cancer was novel at the time and led to a paradigm shift in the way which we culture vaccines. Human cell lines began to be conceptualized as a means of harvesting vaccines.
A final factor to use human cell lines in the study of viruses and the creation of vaccines came from rubella, a virus.
As explained above, there was an epidemic of rubella in the 1960s which was especially devastating in utero. Pregnant women who contracted rubella would commonly have miscarriages or stillbirths. Babies born with congenital rubella syndrome suffered from cataracts, hearing impairment, heart disease, and developmental delays. Abortions in women who were pregnant and contracted rubella were not uncommon.
All of these factors as well as the suffering and loss from the diseases led to a push to include the use of human cell lines as part of the solution.
While it might seem as if an unethical means to create vaccinations, the storied history behind its use provides context as to why using human cell lines as a means to harvest vaccines became the safest, most efficient route.
Why you should protect yourself and others with vaccinations
Vaccines prime your body’s innate immune system, protecting you against several otherwise debilitating and deadly diseases.
By getting vaccinated, you are not only protecting yourself, but also others who may not be able to receive vaccines, such as those with allergies, or infants, or pregnant mothers.
Although the history of vaccines has been wrought with trial and error, the prevention of disease has far outweighed the risks of vaccines. This certainly applies to our place in history, where we stand on this foundation and continue to make vaccines safer for humankind.
CVMG’s Stance on Vaccines
Only with continued education and understanding about the real issues surrounding vaccines will we continue to make vaccines safer.
While both sides have intelligent, passionate advocates, and some of the discussions have become quite contentious, to vaccinate or not to vaccinate isn’t by any stretch of the imagination a new question. It doesn’t have a clear-cut answer.
Our goal at CMVG is to provide our staff and patients with information and education so that they can truly make informed decisions about vaccinations. Although we’re happy to work with our patients through these discussions, CVMG supports the use of vaccinations as recommended by the American Academy of Family Practice, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you have any questions about vaccinations or why CVMG has chosen a pro-vaccine stance, please do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with one of our providers.