Every once in a while, the anti-vaccination scare-mongers rear their heads and make the rounds on the internet. They have been around for a long time, making their first appearances in chain emails and the gaudy, twinkly websites of the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
Currently circulating on social media is a CBCP News article entitled “The Truth About Vaccines” (http://www.cbcpnews.com/cbcpnews/?p=32904), which is quite ironic given that it is mostly a lie. The article relates the recent talk of a Dr. Eleanor de Borja-Palabyab, president of the Doctors for Life, Philippines, who claimed that vaccines contained mercury and formalin that are harmful to the body and brain, as well as causing autism.
That claim is inaccurate and misleading. While it is true that vaccines contain mercury and formalin (or formaldehyde), they are only trace amounts and pose no danger to the human body. Anyone with a basic understanding of chemistry or pharmacology will tell you that it is not the substance itself which is deadly, but the dosage at which it is administered. Thus, a known poison may be safely ingested at a very tiny dose but something beneficial (such as Vitamin A) may be poisonous at high doses.
The link between vaccines and autism comes from a 1998 issue of the British medical journal, The Lancet, which published a study by a certain Andrew Wakefield connecting autism and the MMR (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) vaccine. That study was later discredited and retracted as an “elaborate fraud,” but not after it had done its damage, which we feel more than a decade later, as evidenced by the misinformation perpetuated by this medical practitioner and many other celebrities and personalities as well.
If mercury is your main concern, then you will be relieved to know that since 1999, the US FDA, along with other health organizations, have asked vaccine manufacturers to remove thimerosal (the compound containing mercury) and the manufacturers have complied. Thus, if you or your child was vaccinated after 2002, there is a very large possibility that there was zero or only minute traces of thimerosal in those vaccines.
Even then, there have been numerous studies showing that there is no link between autism and thimerosal. For example, the August 2003 issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine contains a study which documented autism rates in Denmark and Sweden, where manufacturers stopped using thimerosal in vaccines in 1992. If there had been a positive link between thimerosal and autism, its occurrence should have also dropped but the opposite happened as the rate continued on an upward trend from 1987 through 1999. This strongly points to other factors contributing to autism and not thimerosal.
Now, regarding formaldehyde, the usual tactic to scare people is to mention that this is the same compound used for embalming corpses. Yet, what most people don’t know is that we are regularly exposed to formaldehyde every single day. It is in car exhaust fumes, latex paint, nail polish, plywood and particle boards, fiberglass, carpets, laminates, grocery bags and some paper products. It may even be present in some of the food that we eat, but note that these are all in very small amounts and are not harmful at all. In the same manner, the formaldehyde found in vaccines are not harmful either.
That an influential doctor should resort to such unscientific, sensationalist and irresponsible statements is a cause for concern. How many mothers and fathers would take this advice to heart (coming as it were, from a “reputable” source) and refuse to vaccinate their children, risking not only their own lives but others whom their unvaccinated children might also infect should they contract a deadly virus?
One local doctor put it quite plainly, “ I would really like to see [the anti-vaccine advocates] look at the parents of kids who died of measles straight in the eye and tell them that not vaccinating their kids was the right decision.” I am thankful that most of the doctors I know, like this one, are better informed and more scientifically grounded.
But please, don’t take my word for it. I have listed my sources below. It would be best for you to go through them thoroughly for a better understanding of the issue. In the meantime, be wary of headlines which purport to tell you “the truth” about anything. Do your research. Use your head.
Toxic Myths About Vaccines: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/toxic-myths-about-vaccines/
Thimerosal in Vaccines: http://www.fda.gov/biologicsbloodvaccines/safetyavailability/vaccinesafety/ucm096228
MMR Vaccine Controversy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MMR_vaccine_controversy
Autism-Vaccine Link: http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/searching-for-answers/vaccines-autism
Vaccines and Autism – Separating Fact From Fiction:
Retracted Autism Study an “Elaborate Fraud”: http://edition.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/01/05/autism.vaccines/
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.