Vaccinations have been a source of controversy since they were invented in the late 18th century. Vaccinations can often cause side effects, and even today the science of the immune system is not fully understood. Consequently, there have been a variety of movements against vaccinations. Mass vaccinations have almost eradicated deadly diseases like smallpox and polio. But some researchers believe these mass vaccinations have caused more harm than good. Some even believe there are sinister motives behind the medical establishment performing the vaccinations. In 1976, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease appeared in 10 per one million individuals who had received a swine flu immunization. Was it the vaccine that caused the syndrome? Let’s separate the fact and fiction and solve the mystery of Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
In 1976, an outbreak of H1N1 flu virus was reported at Fort Dix in New Jersey. This outbreak was in reality, only 4 recruits who contracted the swine flu. Unfortunately, panic set in when one of the soldiers died from the virus within a few days. Believing it could be the beginning of a pandemic, the CDC began a multi-million dollar flu vaccination effort. 40 million people were immunized at the time against swine flu. Then across 10 states, 54 cases of the extremely rare Guillain-Barre Syndrome were reported. Acting again on panic, and the fact that the swine flu outbreak did not seem to be as severe as originally thought, the immunization effort was abruptly stopped.
Above: President Ford getting a flu shot.
Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a very frightening and mysterious disease, especially for those affected by it. The symptoms include sudden muscle pain, weakness and lethargy, followed by paralysis, starting in the extremities and then continuing throughout the body. If the diaphragm becomes paralyzed, it can cause death. As quickly and mysteriously as the disease takes hold, it can disappear.
Later research has shown that because the syndrome is so rare, and the vaccinations of 1976, so widespread, it’s difficult to assess whether the vaccine was really increasing the risk for GBS. Furthermore, the syndrome may not have been directly due to the vaccine, but to a bacterial contamination of the vaccine, based on new research on the causes of GBS.
Fear of vaccinations in the present day can be traced to the 1976 events. The internet is filled with stories that vaccinations cause a variety of diseases, including cancers and HIV. There are even extreme opponents who claim that mass vaccinations are purposefully used by the government to gain control over the population. These fears don’t make sense. The push for mass vaccination in 1976 was just as capricious as the abrupt ending. The same fear-based strategy that lead the government to begin mass vaccination seems to be the same fear based strategy that ended it. Fears of vaccination have been around since the late 18th century and are fueled by the mysterious nature of disease and illness.
The benefits of vaccination for deadly diseases outweigh the side effects. Though, the debate is likely to continue, in 2005, in Indiana a popular belief against vaccination lead to a real outbreak of measles. Likewise in Nigeria, a backlash against Western medicine in 2001 lead to a resurgence of polio.