Case Study: To Give a Shot or Not
Samantha and Dave are expecting their first child. They are excited for the baby to arrive, but they are nervous as well. Will the baby be healthy? Will they be good parents? In addition to these big concerns, it seems like there are a million decisions to be made. Will Samantha breastfeed or will they use formula? Will they buy a crib or let the baby sleep in their bed?
Samantha goes online to try to find some answers. She finds a website from an author who writes books on parenting. On this site, she reads an article that argues that children should not be given many of the standard childhood vaccines, including the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.
The article claims that the MMR vaccine has been proven to cause autism and gives examples of three children who came down with autism-like symptoms shortly after their first MMR vaccination at one year of age. The author believes that the recent increase in the incidence of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders is due to the fact that the number of vaccinations given in childhood has increased.
Samantha is concerned. She does not want to create lifelong challenges for her child. Besides, aren’t diseases like measles, mumps, and rubella basically eradicated by now? Why should she risk the health of her baby by injecting him with vaccines for diseases that are a thing of the past?
Once baby James is born, Samantha brings him to the pediatrician’s office. Dr. Rodriguez says James needs some shots. Samantha is reluctant and shares what she has read online. Dr. Rodriguez assures Samantha that the study that originally claimed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been found to be fraudulent and that vaccines have repeatedly been demonstrated to be safe and effective in peer-reviewed studies.
Although Samantha trusts her doctor, she is not fully convinced. What about the increase in the number of children with autism and the cases where symptoms of autism appeared after MMR vaccination? Samantha has a tough decision to make, but a better understanding of science can help her. In this chapter, you will learn about what science is (and what it is not), how it works, and how it relates to human health.
As you read this chapter, think about the following questions:
- What do you think about the quality of Samantha’s online source of information about vaccines compared to Dr. Rodriguez’s sources?
- Do you think the arguments presented here that claim that the MMR vaccine causes autism are scientifically valid? Could there be alternative explanations for the observations?
- Why do you think diseases like measles, polio, and mumps are rare these days and why are we still vaccinating for these diseases?