A vaccine is a biological preparation designed to improve the immunity to a particular disease. The vaccine usually contains something within it that resembles the micro-organism that causes the disease. This can be made from a weakened or killed forms of the micro-organism or the toxins it produces. The goal of a vaccine is not to cause harm but rather teach the body’s immune system to recognise the foreign particles and destroy them. This lesson is a lasting one as the immune system can recognise the foreign bodies with ease if they enter the body again in the future and destroy them before they cause any serious health issues.

How this happens is that the vaccine stimulates the body to produce antibodies. An antibody is a large Y-shaped protein that identifies antigens, the foreign bodies like bacteria and viruses in the body. There are many types of antibodies because they target specific antigens. This allows the immune system to target antigens directly by preventing the microbe in some way to multiply within the host which can be a dog, cat or even you.

“A vaccine is any preparation intended to produce immunity to a disease by stimulating the production of antibodies. Vaccines include, for example, suspensions of killed or attenuated microorganisms, or products or derivatives of microorganisms. The most common method of administering vaccines is by injection, but some are given by mouth or nasal spray.”World Health Organisation

The system of deliberately giving people, dogs, cats or any other animals vaccines is called immunisation. This is done in a controlled way so the host’s immune system can learn to protect itself. Immunisation programs have led to a decrease of devastating diseases like measles, diphtheria and polio a distant memory in developed nations. These diseases still cause the deaths of people every year.

I find it an appalling situation when I read about misguided groups spreading misinformation about immunisation. I say misguided because at best it appears to be a misunderstanding of the science that is available. If they are knowingly spreading misinformation then they outright lying and there is every bit of truth in the claims of murder for every child that has died because a parent decided not to immunise because of the misinformation.

This stems from a retracted Lancet paper by Andrew Wakefield claiming that the MMR vaccine caused autism. This led to broader questions on the safety of vaccines and parents deciding loudly and proudly that they were not vaccinating their children. It has since been found that Andrew Wakefield falsified data and a number of scientists have been unable to reproduce the results from replicating his experiments. Andrew Wakefield has been struck off the medical register after being found guilty of serious professional misconduct.

The verdict is in. The MMR vaccine does not cause autism. Please, go get vaccinated.

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