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To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate

Almost everyone agrees that vaccination has been one of the single most effective public health measures ever undertaken however it still remains one of the most controversial issues facing medicine today. We will take a look at these controversies, attempting to dispel truly fallacious information and focusing on real issues of concern to families.

Once the efficacy of vaccines became established, governments rushed to both make vaccines available to the populace and to make vaccination compulsory in many cases. In the twentieth century, as immunizations for childhood diseases were developed, including diphtheria, measles, mumps and rubella, vaccination became required for public school attendance.

In 1974, the WHO launched the Expanded Programme on Immunization. Through their efforts the last naturally occurring case of smallpox in the world occurred in Somalia in 1977.

Governmental entities strive to immunize as many people as possible in order to reach "herd immunity". Herd immunity takes place when enough people are vaccinated to substantially lower the likelihood that a susceptible person will come into contact with an infected person.

Unfortunately, while the discovery of vaccines has probably been one of the single most important steps in eradicating disease (along with sanitation and antibiotics), there have been and continue to be safety issues associated with vaccine administration.

In 1955, two batches of polio vaccine contained live virus, which caused an outbreak of polio. In the 1970s a paper was published linking pertussis vaccination to permanent brain damage. The ensuing boycott of vaccinations and slate of lawsuits drove vaccine manufacturers out of the business, creating shortages and a rapid increase in disease incidence. The theory was later disproved but the controversy led to the development of the National Vaccine Information Office, the National Vaccine Injury Act, which provides some liability protection to manufacturers and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Fund which provides monetary compensation when a vaccine is proven to have had a deleterious effect. In 1976, there was evidence that the swine flu outbreak could create an epidemic as bad as the flu epidemic of 1918, which killed 50,000,000 people worldwide. Swine flu vaccine was rushed to the public without adequate testing, resulting in about 500 cases of Guillain-Barr

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