There is no vaccine controversy.

Unpopular opinion time: I think vaccines are rad. Come at me.

It’s flu shot season, and that means it’s once again time for debate and discussion about the safety and ethics of vaccination. Here’s my position: Provide me with substantiated, legitimized scientific study that proves conclusively that vaccines cause autism, weakened immune systems, whatever, and I’ll consider the anti-vaccine side of the argument. Until then, I feel zero misgivings about dismissing it entirely as irresponsible pseudoscience.

Although anti-vaccination rhetoric has been around since the 1700s, it really took off in 1998 with the publishing in The Lancet of a study by British medical researcher Andrew Wakefield that linked the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine with the development of autism spectrum disorders in children.

The study was highly controversial, and this controversy, which exposed conflict of interest, falsified results and gross medical misconduct on Wakefield’s part, led 10 out of 13 of the study’s authors to retract their conclusion linking the vaccine to autism. The British General Medical Council conducted an inquiry and in 2010, they found Wakefield guilty of 36 charges, including 12 counts of abusing developmentally-challenged children. The Lancet immediately retracted the study and Wakefield is now barred from practicing medicine in the UK.

Despite this, the rate of inoculation in Britain plummeted after the publication of Wakefield’s study, and confirmed cases of measles increased from 56 in 1998 to 1348 in 2008, with two fatalities.

The anti-vaccine movement, which nowadays is largely based on a study that has been completely and thoroughly debunked as an elaborate fraud, would be laughable if it wasn’t having so many serious consequences.

As a result of rumours and misinformation, more and more parents are choosing to not vaccinate their kids or to not follow the recommended vaccination schedule for fear of “vaccine overload” – which has no proven scientific basis, as studies show conclusively that receiving multiple vaccines at once or over a short period of time does not weaken the immune system, (but not following the recommended schedule does weaken a vaccine’s effectiveness.)

The result: there has been a significant increase in preventable illnesses such as measles and whooping cough in developed countries, not only in North America but Europe as well.  The state of Washington has been hit particularly hard, with a 1300% increase in reported cases of whooping cough in 2012, and 17,000 cases reported thus far the same year in all the United States, (the worst numbers since 1959.) 10 deaths have been reported so far. In the first six months of 2011 alone, there were three times as many measles cases reported as normally seen in an entire year in the U.S.

The measles outbreak in Europe, which spreads across 33 countries, has been particularly severe in France, which saw 4,937 reported cases between January and March of 2011, (compared with 5,090 cases during all of 2010.) The World Health Organization has directly attributed this outbreak to a decrease in immunization. Rebecca Martin, head of the WHO’s office in Copenhagen for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization, said, “One of the problems is that people have fear of the vaccine more than the disease. People forget how severe measles can be.”

These diseases are no joke. People are dying because of this misinformation.

20% of measles cases in the United States result in hospitalization and 6% in pneumonia. 3 out of every 1000 people with measles will die. On the flip side, fevers as a result of vaccination, although common, are short-lived and have no lasting consequences.  Only 5% of people vaccinated will get a rash, 1 in 1,000,000 people will suffer a severe allergic reaction, and the risk of a vaccination-induced seizure is one ninth that of death by measles. Take your pick.

Vaccines are important for two reasons: not only do they immunize the individuals receiving them, but they create “herd immunity,” which assures that a communicable disease can’t spread throughout a community. This also protects those individuals who are not eligible to receive the vaccine, for example, because they’re too young. Because of herd immunity, preventable illnesses like measles had been all but eradicated from developed countries for decades…until recently. Because measles is so contagious, 96% of the population must be vaccinated to secure herd immunity. The spread of anti-vaccine sentiment is seriously jeopardizing that.

Vaccines don’t have a perfect track record, but they’re pretty damn close to it. There is no real vaccine controversy, because scientists and health agencies almost unanimously agree, (and I only say almost to cover my ass since I know somebody is going to find an exception,) that vaccines are effective, safe, and necessary.

Vaccines save lives. Just because Jenny McCarthy or your naturopath told you otherwise doesn’t negate decades of scientific evidence.