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There’s no question that the safety of vaccinations has become one of the mostly hotly contested issues within health and wellness today.

Whether you have a friend whose life was saved by a vaccine, or an acquaintance who suffered from serious side effects of a vaccination, chances are you’ve heard some strong opinions on both sides of the issue. You might have a lot of questions, like:

Are vaccines really safe?

Are some safer than others?

What about for children and pregnant mothers?

Let’s see what the research has to say on this controversial issue.

In Support of Vaccines

Those who support the preventative use of vaccines argue that there is no proven link between vaccines and autism, and that vaccines save thousands of lives every year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study in 2014 noting that vaccinations have saved 732,000 children’s lives since 1994.

Any person that is not vaccinated can become seriously ill if exposed to the disease, however many of the diseases which children are vaccinated against are no longer common in this country. Yet, with international travel being common for the average person today, the chances of your child coming into contact with a person carrying a disease that doesn’t currently exist in the U.S. is much higher than it used to be.

There is also the argument for “herd immunity,” meaning that the safety of an entire community is better protected when members are not exposed to preventable illness via infection of an unvaccinated member.

The Argument Against Vaccines

Many in the natural health community believe that widespread vaccine use has led to the rise of autism spectrum disorders, allergies, and autoimmune disorders. Sometimes referring to themselves as “anti-vax” or “no-vax,” members of this group are skeptical about the benefits of vaccines as they weigh them against the risks posed by receiving them.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, there was a broad effort by consumers to limit the use of thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative) in vaccines due to concerns about a link to autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). While no definitive link was proven – despite at least 9 specific studies on a potential link between thimerosal and ASDs – it was removed from most vaccines by 2001 due to overall efforts to reduce mercury exposure in children. However autism rates continue to climb, as more and more children are diagnosed with it every year.

One recent study found that almost 88% of pediatricians in the US say they receive at least one request each day from parents to delay a vaccine due to safety concerns, with 8.6% of parents declining at least one vaccine altogether for their child.

Many who are hesitant to vaccinate their children align themselves with the wisdom of improve the body’s innate immune system – through leading a healthy lifestyle, reducing intake of sugar and processed foods, getting adequate sun exposure for vitamin D, and more, as the true way to protect oneself from the potential invasion of illness into the body.

What Does the Evidence Suggest?

While the majority of the scientific research available on vaccines points to their safety and efficacy, there are concerns about conflicts of interest in vaccine safety research that still leave some doubting it’s validity. According to this study, “Sponsors of research have competing interests that may impede the objective study of vaccine side effects. Vaccine manufacturers, health officials, and medical journals may have financial and bureaucratic reasons for not wanting to acknowledge the risks of vaccines.”

Side effects of any health intervention are a legitimate concern, and one that you should always raise before receiving any type of treatment. Research does suggest that while possible, side effects from vaccines are rarely serious. A 2011 research review from the National Academy of Medicine covering more than 1,000 vaccine studies concluded that serious reactions to vaccines are extremely rare. According to the CDC, grave side effects from vaccines account for less than 10% of cases where side effects were noted.

Forming Your Own Opinions on Vaccine Safety

While you may already have a strong opinion one way or the other about vaccines, the best thing you can possible do is to educate yourself. Being informed is the best way to make confident decisions for your health and the health of your children.

This database has an incredibly thorough list of links to more research studies on all the common vaccination concerns; it’s a great place to start if you want to know what the science says on the matter.

Never stop asking questions to broaden your understanding. Keep asking questions of your health care provider, the scientific community, and yourself.