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by Prathap Shastri

Prathap ShastriA recent mumps outbreak at Ohio State University has recorded more than 100 incidences, and initial reports claimed the outbreak occurred among those who had been vaccinated against mumps. This has already triggered a discussion about vaccine failure, safety of vaccination, etc. Coincidentally, I was very recently questioned by a health professional about vaccine efficacy and whether vaccines are really worth it! As I started to read more about vaccine failure, I came across numerous articles and blogs from parents and vaccine skeptics that compiled instances of vaccine failures and disadvantages. This content intends to encourage parents not to vaccinate their kids and provoked me to share some of the facts related to vaccination with the AAPS community.

Mumps is a viral infection of the salivary glands. It can spread through coughing, sneezing, or contact with saliva or mucus. Mumps is very contagious and an outbreak can spread rapidly. Current treatments only relieve symptoms, and the disease is expected to last a week or two. Adding to the complexity, the incubation period of this virus is about five days, which means a patient might not even realize that he/she is infected and hence may end up infecting the broader community around them. Like all other immunizations, the mumps vaccine does not provide 100% protection, and immunity may fade away with age.

It is critical to emphasize that the recent outbreak should not be categorized as vaccine failure. To avoid such controversies, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides statistics related to mumps on its website, which may help those who are questioning vaccinations before they draw any conclusions: “Before there was a vaccine against mumps, mumps was a very common disease in U.S. children, with as many as 300,000 cases reported every year.” The number of cases reported now becomes almost negligible compared to this one.”

Let’s take a look at some of the famous reasons why some skeptical parents may deny vaccinations to their kids. They tend to believe that vaccines are loaded with chemicals that may cause side effects including autism, and they don’t trust pharmaceutical companies. There are perceptions that it is dangerous to give their kids numerous vaccines at the same time, and some believe it is okay to spread out vaccination schedules. Skeptics also tend to believe that vaccines may be the actual cause of disease outbreaks, with examples including a rare vaccine-derived polio incidence in Nigeria, Lyme vaccine withdrawal from the market, and FDA warning against Rotateq (rotavirus vaccine). When there is only meager evidence to support any of the above concerns, some parents still want to believe that they are protecting their kids by saying no to vaccines!

CDC, FDA, and many other health organizations worldwide have debated the safety and efficacy of vaccines. For example, in the United States, the polio vaccine no longer includes live, attenuated polio virus. Instead it now consists of the inactivated or killed virus. This is to avoid the already rare possibility of an attenuated vaccine reverting back to its normal form. However, in developing countries, such as India, the live, attenuated polio virus vaccine is still used. There are reasons for doing this as well. Using the live, attenuated virus vaccine enables oral vaccination, which is easy to administer and helps to increase vaccine coverage throughout the population. In addition, these vaccines are able to pass immunity to others around them, leading to herd immunity, which is critical for protecting a large population. There lies the risk versus benefit assessment, and decisions made by all health organizations around the world are based on benefits outweighing the risk associated with them.

Even with all these facts, it is still hard to convince some of the parent population who are constantly building a case against vaccination and continue to put their kids at risk. Check out this interesting math presented by the CDC, to help convince those who argue that vaccines are not effective.

Ah! Something to think about? Let us know if you have come across such discussions and your opinion.

Prathap Shastri works for the ADME/DMPK group at WIL Reseach Laboratories in Ashland, Ohio. Prior to joining WIL research, he worked at Seventh Wave Laboratories working as a principal investigator for the PDM group.