Via STAT, Helen Branswell writes: Donald Trump, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and the real science of vaccines. Excerpt from a must-read:
News that President-elect Donald Trump and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. met on Tuesday rang alarm bells throughout the scientific community, because both have aggressively promoted discredited anti-vaccination theories.
Here are the debunked theories they espouse, and what the science actually says.
THE CLAIM: That the high number of vaccines given to young children can overwhelm their immune systems and cause autism, and that spacing out vaccines over a longer period of time would be safer.
THE SCIENCE: From the second a baby starts to descend the birth canal, it encounters multitudes of bacteria and other microbes to which its immune system must respond. It’s a process that goes on throughout life.
Just by breathing in dust or putting a dirty finger in a mouth, young children are activating their immune systems all the time.
The full complement of vaccines children receive in their first few years of life contain far fewer components that stimulate the immune response than they encounter by eating, drinking, and exploring their worlds, said Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine expert and pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Offit is the co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine.
Moreover, modern production methods actually produce more purified vaccines, so even though they’re getting more vaccinations, children today are exposed to fewer immune components than they were decades ago, when they got just one vaccination.
“So although we have 14 [childhood] vaccines today … the fact is that we have fewer immunological challenges [from vaccines] than we did 100 years ago,” Offit said.
(By the way, that one vaccine routinely given decades ago prevented infection with smallpox. The world no longer worries about smallpox because it was eradicated — thanks to the vaccine.)
Despite these evident public health gains, skeptics have circulated a theory that childhood vaccines overtax the immune system in ways that can lead to neurological damage. People made nervous by that idea sometimes embrace an alternative vaccine schedule which recommends spacing vaccines out.
But this alternative schedule is not based on science — and experts say it’s actually dangerous, because it extends the period of time during which children are not fully protected against diseases that can cause serious illness and can even kill.
A 2010 study that compared children who got their vaccines on time to children who were vaccinated on a delayed scheduled or who did not get vaccinations showed no neurological benefit of spacing out vaccination.
And a 2014 study found that children who were vaccinated on a delayed schedule actually had higher rates of post-vaccine seizures, for certain vaccines, than children vaccinated on time. (Some people who believe their children were harmed by vaccines have talked about post-vaccination seizures and changes in behavior.)