As a doctor, vaccination column shook me to my core

On 3 October, an article was published by the Jewish News claiming whipped up fear clouds the facts surrounding vaccinations.

Having worked night shifts over the weekend and therefore not been privy to my usual Shabbat afternoon read, I was alerted to the article by a Whatsapp message on a group for Jewish doctors on Sunday afternoon.

The rage encountered was something never previously experienced; a response was considered obligatory in the interest of public safety.

As a first, I must commend the author for her truly persuasive writing style and beautiful prose. Sadly, this is where my admiration ends.

The inflammatory language shook me to my very core and goes against the basic requirements of proper science reporting.

Ms Wayne has clearly misunderstood or fails to understand what the data and the facts really tell us.

 To be clear, this is not an argument for or against whether vaccines should be compulsory. I have my opinions on the matter, as will the general public, and choices such as this are worthy of public debate.

Conveniently positioning herself as fighting for the perceived weak, the few, the defenceless, is a classic ‘them vs us’ tactic that has no place in genuine debate. 

Yet even worse are the abhorrent references to the Holocaust, preying on the collective Jewish conscience. TWICE comparing vaccination programmes to the repugnant Nazi regime is both a masterstroke in emotive language and utterly detestable in nature.

For readers who would like a more balanced argument, please read on.

The fact is, simple biochemistry dictates that no medicine in the world comes without risks and possible side effects. Every single particle you ingest, whether  medicine or day-to-day food, acts in multiple ways that we only partially understand.

Consider the link between sugar intake and diabetes, or fatty foods and weight. Whenever we as doctors prescribe/recommend a treatment, we (carefully) weigh up the intended benefits vs possible costs. It is referred to as the risk/benefit ratio.

Have a headache? Take some ibuprofen. But don’t forget about the risk of stomach problems. High blood pressure? Take an anti-hypertensive. But consider the risk to your kidneys.

Vaccines are exactly the same. The benefit is a previously unimaginable decrease in disease rates. The risks may include short-term fevers and pain, and extremely rarely allergic anaphylaxis. But lets quantify this risk. Hard data from many studies place the risk of anaphylaxis at 1 in 760,000 vaccinations. To place that in context, you have a higher chance of being struck by lightning this year (1 in 700,00)!

Now lets analyse some of the author’s ‘facts’ about the measles vaccine.

The vaccine was actually introduced in 1968, not 1963 as she wrote. (Incidentally, she happened to choose a year with a coincidental lower rate of deaths than the surrounding years).

The 0.00007% death rate in the population from measles can also be written as 39 people. That’s 39 saveable lives.

In the 10 years prior to measles vaccine introduction, an average 86 people died each year from measles. The 10 years from 2008-2017 produced an average of just 0.8, less than 1 person per year.

And let’s note, that this is simply recording death rate, a rare complication of measles infection. Not accounted for are the thousands of people suffering life-changing complications including physical disabilities, behavioural or personality changes, serious chest infections, epilepsy… the list goes on.

What she misunderstands, is that the entire raison d’etre of vaccinations is precisely to decrease the number of children and adults suffering from these conditions.

The polio vaccine protects from crippling paralysis. The meningitis vaccine shields from complications such as brain damage. The diphtheria vaccine from airway obstruction and heart damage. The list is never ending.

I invite the author to speak to parents of sufferers who had not vaccinated their children and subsequently contracted these diseases, and ask whether in hindsight they would change their decision.

Fortunately, today we live in a world where many of these devastating diseases have been forced into the shadows by vaccinations programmes introduced in the last 100 years.

Thankfully, the majority of the population barely knows what measles looks like, let alone the dreadful complications that can result from the most contagious infection known to mankind.

As doctors, however, we often work within these shadows to treat the few cases that do occur. We’ve seen the consequences, we understand just how vaccines have improved the world we live in.

The author talks about removing liability exemption from pharmaceutical companies. Perhaps she should be held accountable for spreading such information, and be liable herself for any diseases contracted as a consequence of lower vaccination rates?

I personally know of cancer patients living in Stamford Hill whose parents do not allow them to leave the confines of their home due to the fear of contracting an infection that could place their lives in danger.

 A completely avoidable infection, might I add.

Ultimately, there is a cost/benefit ratio to every vaccine injected, and our current legal system places the onus on parents to make the choice for their children’s health.

Vaccines in general provide outstanding (though by no means perfect) immunity, yet no one will deny a minute amount of risk.

The debate over compulsory vaccination continues, however in no way, shape or form, should false information persuade the masses one way or the other.

Every single recognised doctor I have come across in my life would strongly and firmly advise you to vaccinate your children.

However, the choice is still yours.

  • This column has been endorsed by 47 fellow doctors and health professionals. Names available on request.




About the Author
Dr Avi Korman is a Foundation Doctor at University College Hospital, London
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