Alice Park of Time digs deeply into the issue of vaccine safety. Here’s a bit:
More than any other issue, the question of autism has fueled the battle over vaccines. Since the 1980s, the number of vaccinations children receive has doubled, and in that same time, autism diagnoses have soared threefold. In 1998, British gastroenterologist Dr. Andrew Wakefield of London's Royal Free Hospital published a paper in the journal the Lancet in which he reported on a dozen young patients who were suffering from both autism-like developmental disorders and intestinal symptoms that included inflammation, pain and bloating. Eight of the kids began exhibiting signs of autism days after receiving the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella. While Wakefield and his co-authors were careful not to suggest that these cases proved a connection between vaccines and autism, they did imply, provocatively, that exposure to the measles virus could be a contributing factor to the children's autism. Wakefield later went on to speculate that virus from the vaccine led to inflammation in the gut that affected the brain development of the children…For more on vaccinations, check out last month’s feature post: Mandatory Vaccinations: The Choice Should Be Yours.
…There is also little evidence to support the claim made by antivaccine activists that the battery of shots kids receive can damage the immune system rather than strengthen it. Experts stress that it's not the number of inoculations that matters but the number of immune-stimulating antigens - or proteins - in them. Thanks to a better understanding of which viral or bacterial proteins are best at activating the immune system, that number has plummeted. The original smallpox injection alone packed 200 different immune-alerting antigens in a single shot. Today there are only 150 antigens in all 15 or so shots babies get before they are 6 months old. "The notion that too many vaccines can overwhelm the immune system is just not based on good science," says Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia…
… Whether tests like these, combined with detailed family histories, will make a difference in the rates of developmental disorders like autism isn't yet clear. But such a strategy could reveal new avenues of research and lead to safer inoculations overall. Parents concerned about vaccine safety would then have stronger answers to their questions about how their child might be affected by the shots. Vaccines may be a medical marvel, but they are only one salvo in our fight against disease-causing bugs. It's worth remembering that viruses and bacteria have had millions of years to perfect their host-finding skills; our abilities to rebuff them are only two centuries old. And in that journey, both parents and public-health officials want the same thing - to protect future generations from harm.