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Vaccines Save Lives

Filed under: Features |


By Colleen Costello, MD, FAAP
Prior to the introduction of the vaccine, over 29,000 children in the United States died every
year from small pox. Today, that number is zero. Prior to the introduction of the vaccine, over
21,000 children in the United States died every year from diphtheria. Today, that number is
zero. Before the vaccine, over 16,000 children in the United States died yearly from polio.
Today, that number is zero.1 I could go on and on, but I think you get my point.

Countless children have been afflicted with polio before the vaccine. (Photo credit:
wikimedia.org)
The CBCP News website recently put up an article that was (misleadingly) entitled, The Truth
About Vaccines. The article was based on a talk given by a certain Dr. Eleanor de BorjaPalabyab, MD about vaccines. During that talk, she made a number of assertions about vaccines,
all of which ran the gamut from incredibly misleading to patently false. Much to my chagrin, the
author of the article repeated these claims, without providing any indication that they run
against everything that the scientific and medical community currently accepts as truth.
Dr. de Borja-Palabyab begins by parroting the oft-mentioned appeal to fear that vaccines
contain harmful chemicals (she cites mercury and formalin) that have been liked to autism. She
is wrong, wrong, and wrong on all three counts.
First of all, thimerosol (the mercury-containing compound used as a preservative for some
vaccines) has been removed from essentially all (except for the flu vaccine) of the current
recommended vaccines since 2001.2 This was done in spite of the fact that a comprehensive
review of the use of thimerosal in childhood vaccines conducted in 1999 by the Food and Drug
Administration of the United States found no evidence of harm from the use of thimerosal as a
vaccine preservative, other than local hypersensitivity reactions.3
What about formalin? Yes, it is true that some vaccines contain minute amounts of this
chemical, but it is so dilute, it can hardly be detected. We are naturally exposed to much greater
amounts of this chemical in our natural surroundings; it is present in building materials,
cosmetics, and several household products, not to mention the fact that our own bodies
naturally produce this chemical in much higher quantities!
If Dr. de Borja-Palabyab would open one of the biochemistry textbooks we read in medical
school, she would be reminded of the fact that formaldehyde is also produced naturally in the
human body as a part of normal functions of the body to produce energy and build the basic

materials needed for important life processes. This includes making amino acids, which are the
building blocks of proteins that the body needs. Perhaps the most egregious of her claims is the
one where she claims that vaccines cause autism. People who make this claim almost universally
cite Andrew Wakefield, a former physician and researcher who published a fraudulent paper in
1998 about the link between autism and the MMR vaccine. Mr. Wakefields study was found to
be falsified, thus leading to a complete retraction of the paper by the publishing journal, The
Lancet. In addition, Mr. Wakefield has been stripped of his medical license because of his
professional misconduct in falsifying his data.4
The question of a link between autism and vaccines has been studied exhaustively and there is
no scientific evidence that there is an association between the two.5 Dr. de Borja-Palabyabs
coup de grce is when she brings up the issue of the human cell lines that are used as a culture
medium for certain vaccines.
Like all false claims, they are more effective when they contain half-truths. By bringing up the
fact that the cell lines originated from two aborted fetuses in 1964 and 1970, she attempts to
muddy the waters by pushing the button of Catholics who are, like myself, naturally pro-life. The
truth of the matter is that the Vatican has already weighed in on this issue in a statement it
released in 2005. While it expressly condemned the original immoral act (the voluntary
abortion), it also took pains to give permission to use these vaccines, as vaccines are necessary
in order to avoid a serious risk not only for ones own children but also, and perhaps more
specifically, for the health conditions of the population as a whole especially for pregnant
women.6
It is clear, therefore, that the article was not presenting the truth about vaccines. It is doing
nothing but presenting falsehoods and conspiracy theories that have little-to-no basis in reality.
Filipino children die of infectious diseases every day, and by giving voice to these sort of claims,
individuals or groups like Dr. de Borja-Palabyab play a dangerous game with peoples lives.
What IS the truth about vaccines, then? Its simple: vaccines save lives. Thanks to vaccines, the
Philippines has remained Polio-free for the last 14 years.7 Hib meningitis once killed 600
children each year in the U.S. and left many survivors with deafness, seizures, or mental
retardation. Since introduction of conjugate Hib vaccine in December 1987, the incidence of Hib
has declined by 98 percent.8 Frankly, this evidence goes on and on: Measles, Rubella,
Diphtheria, Pertussis, Hepatitis B are just a few more vaccine-preventable diseases that are
killers of children. Once parents and individuals become informed, the fear the unknown
propaganda from the Anti-Vaxxer cult crumbles under the weight of its own absurdity.
By vaccinating your children, you are not only protecting your child, you are also protecting
children who are too young to be vaccinated and those who cannot be vaccinated for medical
reasons (for example, children with leukemia or those who are on strong immunosuppressants).
M. Colleen Costello, MD is an emergency physician at the East Tennesee Childrens Hospital in
the United States.