May 08, 2019
Vaccinations have been an evolutionary process in maintaining immunity from common infectious diseases. All of us as children were required to receive our scheduled immunizations to limit infectious spread and maintain herd immunity. However, slowly over time there has been a paradigm shift in the need to vaccinate. Reasons not to vaccinate have included religious and personal belief exemptions. In addition, the use of social media, political pundits, anti-vaccination advocates, celebrities and conspiracy theorists have perpetrated misinformation about the safety of vaccinations which is leading to a growing public health threat.
In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield and colleagues first proposed a potential link between vaccinations with autism.1 In 2002, Rimland and McGinnis followed with their explosive paper that also proposed a link between vaccinations (thimerosal) and autism. 2 Both papers were retracted since there has been overwhelming evidence to debunk both of these theories. However, it took 16 years for the Rimland and McGinnis paper to be retracted. Although most would not expect a single paper to do much harm to society, this paper has been frequently accessed and cited by anti-vaccination groups to support the decision not to vaccinate. 3
Recently across the country there have been a number of measles cases, which has been liked to areas in which children have been not immunized for the disease. In addition to this national concern, at least 20 states have proposed anti-vaccination bills to make it easier for people to opt-out of vaccines. 4, 5
I recommend pharmacists contact their senators and congressman, express their thoughts on social media, and provide visual education in their pharmacies to support vaccinations and to debunk all of the myths regarding vaccinations. Our professional organizations need to step up and partner with the CDC and other organizations in educational initiatives on social media, television and other social media platforms to get the word out. Since pharmacists can immunize in all 50 states we have a responsibility and duty to help our patients understand the truth of why vaccinations are needed, and should continue to be a LOUD voice in support of vaccinations within our communities.
Michael J. Cawley, PharmD, RRT, CPFT, FCCM, is a professor of clinical pharmacy at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, University of the Sciences. He has more than 25 years of experience practicing in the areas of medical, surgical, trauma, and burn intensive care as both a critical care clinical pharmacist and registered respiratory therapist.
- Wakefield AJ, Murch SH, Anthony A et al. Ileal-lymphoid=nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Lancet 1998;351:637-41.
- Rimland B, McGinnis W. Vaccines and autism. Laboratory Medicine 2002;33 (9):708-717.
- Retraction Watch. Journal retracts 16 year-old paper based on debunked autism-vaccine study. https://retractionwatch.com/2018/10/16/journal-retracts-16-year-old-paper-based-on-debunked-autism-vaccine-study/. Accessed March 7, 2019.
- CNN Health. Even with measles outbreaks across the US, at least 20 states have proposed anti-vaccination bills. https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/06/health/vaccine-exemption-bills-across-us-trnd/index.html. Accessed March 11, 2019.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles cases and outbreaks. https://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html. Accessed March 14, 2019.