I am afraid that Anna O’Malley’s March 3 opinion piece, “Furthering the conversation on vaccination,” undermines rather than furthers the conversation by including inaccurate claims that could scare parents from vaccinating on schedule and providing their children with optimal protection from disease.
It is to Dr. O’Malley’s credit that she correctly highlights the incredible effectiveness of vaccines, which are estimated to save tens of thousands of lives per birth cohort and hundreds of thousands of lives in total. Vaccines prevent millions of cases of disease each year, saving us from extensive suffering and billions of dollars in costs. Thanks to vaccines, smallpox, diphtheria and polio are no longer part of the reality in the United States, and hib, measles and other diseases are extremely rare.
She is also correct that serious harms from vaccines are extremely rare. Your child is much more likely to be hit by lightning than be injured by a vaccine.
Dr. O’Malley, however, goes astray in implying incorrectly that the ingredients in vaccines are unsafe—in her words, are “toxins.” Each ingredient in vaccines is there for a reason and in tiny amounts, far below anything approaching a level of danger. For example, the aluminum salts she refers to exist in very minute amounts. We get much more from our food, air and water; indeed, aluminum is all around us. In fact, parents who want to protect their children from toxins should vaccinate. Diphtheria, pertussis and other bacteria emit real toxins, not the imaginary ones in vaccines.
Dr. O’Malley wrongly implies that we give too many vaccines too soon. In fact, the immune system burden imposed by the vaccines against the 15 diseases we protect children from is tiny; thanks to better technology, that burden is even smaller than it was in the 1980s. The rarity of vaccine injuries shows how safe the schedule is. Skipping or delaying part of the schedule is leaving children at risk longer than necessary—with no benefit whatsoever. It is, frankly, a mistake and unsupported by any evidence.
Nor is it true that there is evidence that the Centers for Disease Control suppressed data. This is a reference to claims by a C.D.C. scientist that a spurious sub-result from a 2004 paper about M.M.R. and autism was not included in the final paper. Many studies have examined if there is a link between M.M.R. and autism, and have found none. The data on vaccine safety is derived from many different sources around the world. These independent studies reinforce each other and show that vaccines are very, very safe and effective.
When the only argument against requiring vaccines for school relies on mistaken beliefs about vaccine safety, it cannot stand. Vaccines are safe, effective and save lives. Immunization mandates make our schools safe. By shoring up California’s mandate, S.B.277 is helping to safely protect our kids and our communities.
Dorit Reiss is a professor of law at the U.C. Hastings College of the Law, a member of Voices for Vaccines' Parents Advisory Board and a mother of two sons. She lives in Fremont.