Two Sides of the Same Needle

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? That is the question. Among students and adults, everyone has their own opinion about what’s right.

   Winter is upon us, and as the snow falls outside, students are falling out of classrooms due to sickness.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that the flu vaccine is administered before the flu season begins. The season for the influenza virus can stretch from November to May, but peaks in the winter months, December through February. While the flu vaccine is one of the most well-known vaccines, there are others that are just as important.

“[Some of the most common vaccines are] MCV, MMR, polio, chicken pox, the flu and pneumonia,” School Nurse Miss Amanda Cogley said.

   The meningococcal vaccine (MCV) prevents meningitis, which is an infection of the brain and spinal cord, and may cause blood infections. The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) contains weakened forms of the measles, mumps and rubella viruses. Getting vaccinated helps the human body protect against diseases. Mrs. Julie Firmstone, a high school science teacher, explained how a vaccine works.

School nurse Miss Amanda Cogley works diligently each day to ensure students are safe and healthy. Photo by: Delaney Bortz

“The basics of it is that it’s a weakened or dead form of whatever that virus is,” Mrs. Firmstone said. “When they put it in your body, your body recognizes it as foreign and forms a response to those foreign entities, so the next time they’re exposed they can react better to them. They can react faster to them.”

While receiving a vaccination greatly lessens the chance of contracting a disease, it can’t guarantee that it won’t be contracted. Senior Sydney Tressler doesn’t believe in vaccinations and is worried about the chance of contracting the disease.

“They inject the live virus into you with the live vaccines,” Tressler said. “Not all of them are like that, but most of them are live vaccines. They give you the live virus, which makes you sick.”

If there is no vaccination received, no symptoms may show up, but the disease may have still been caught.

   “If you’re not vaccinated you have a greater risk of getting that [disease],” Firmstone said. “Not that it’s 100%- you could go your whole life and never get chicken pox without the vaccine. If you do get it, some viruses can lay dormant in a person for a period of time, and then when they begin to express themselves from stress or something, another virus, or whatever else affects it, you may still not know. Therefore, you could be at risk to be contagious for a period of time. If other people aren’t vaccinated, it could affect a lot more people.”

Even when you get a vaccination, it may not stop the disease from spreading.

“Things like the flu aren’t necessarily [stopped] because there are so many different strains of them,” Firmstone said. “There’s a gamble every year with the flu vaccine to really guess which one. The CDC and the World Health Organization, the WHO, they have to track the flu the whole year prior to figure out what form of the vaccine they should give, which version of the flu vaccine should we predict will be affecting this region. Even different regions of the Earth could have different vaccines for that year.”

Senior Alexa Cuccia doesn’t support the use of vaccines due to the fact that she has had some of the diseases that vaccines protect against, and is all right.

“I actually had whooping cough, I had chicken pox, I’m alive and I’m fine,” Cuccia said. “I did not get whooping cough from someone unvaccinated. People [who are] vaccinated get whooping cough. There are people who have gotten chicken pox who are vaccinated. Do you know why? Because when you get the vaccination, they’re putting that disease in you. You could get [the disease] from the vaccine. Someone [could] get vaccinated with the flu shot and come near me and just give it to me because they’re literally walking around with the virus.”

Non-vaccinated students may make others fearful for how it affects their own health. Photo by: Delaney Bortz

  When vaccinations are occurring, it lessens the chance of somebody contracting a disease. If enough people don’t receive a vaccination, it can hurt the rest of the population.

   “Once 30% of the population is not vaccinated, it decreases what’s called herd immunity,” Cogely said.

According to, herd immunity is when people get vaccinated and prevent the disease from traveling through a population. This prevents an outbreak in a community and makes everyone living there less likely to get the disease. Cuccia believes that people are protected through herd immunity and don’t have to receive vaccines.

“The only way to actually be protected forever is natural immunity,” she said. “If you read about it, it says how many times you have to get your vaccines updated through life because it’s not natural. If you get that natural immunity, you have it for life.”

There are many reasons that someone would choose to waive a vaccination, though.

  “Either it goes against their religious beliefs, or they have a moral objection to them,” Cogely said.

 Some of the moral objection to vaccinations comes from the belief that they cause autism. The debate on whether or not vaccinations can cause autism was caused by a study by Andrew Wakefield and twelve colleagues in 1998. They studied 12 children and said that all 12 showed signs of developmental issues after exposure to the MMR vaccine. Nine were eventually diagnosed with autism.

    Further studies into the vaccination later refuted the claims that vaccines cause autism, and 10 of the 12 others who worked on the paper retracted their statements. The retraction was because the data was insufficient and that no link was found. The paper was completely retracted in 2010 and was admitted to be incorrect and contradict with former investigations. Despite the paper being disproven, the research still discouraged people from getting vaccinated.

“I know a lot of people feel that it has an increased risk of autism,” Cogely said. “They [also] feel that herd immunity will prevent them from [getting it]. And fear of possible long-term effects.”

Flu vaccines at local chain pharmacies make it easier for more people to get vaccinated. Photo by: Delaney Bortz

   Despite so many people receiving a vaccination, there may not be as much research on the topic as there should be.

“With literally every other drug or medicine they do a placebo trial,” Cuccia said. “Someone’s given a drug that’s not a real drug, and then they give one that is real. With vaccines, there is not that safety testing done. There is literally nothing done on that at all. But why not? Why do they refuse to do that trial? Get the non-vaccinated kids, get the vaccinated kids, do a study of them through their life and see which is healthier.”

    The possible lack of research into vaccines can also cause the material to not be taught well to students hoping to be in the medical field.

    “I’m doing my senior project on vaccines so I’ve been interviewing holistic doctors, who come with more of a natural approach, and I’ve interviewed a medical doctor, too,” Cuccia said. “I asked him how much he got taught about vaccines in [his] schooling, and he said ‘nothing at all really. We just get told that vaccines are good and this is what you give to your kid,’ and that’s all they’re told in school.”

   Tressler has researched vaccines and is very well informed on the concepts. One of the things that she wrote about was the number of chemicals in a vaccination.

    “I did my senior research paper on [vaccines], and nobody knows about anything that’s in a vaccine,” Tressler said. “There [are] so many different extreme chemicals that can harm your body like formaldehyde and mercury. People always say vaccines don’t cause autism [and] they don’t, but they contribute to it because if there’s extreme amounts of mercury, [and] you keep getting different shots over and over again the amount of mercury in them affects your brain. There are so many cases where right after someone’s child was vaccinated, literally 24 hours later they were showing signs of autism.”

    While there may be a link to autism through certain vaccinations, there are ways to still be protected and avoid the possible risks of being vaccinated.

   “I’m a mom, so I understand the risks and I know that there is some research that shows a link between certain types of autism and things with vaccines,” Firmstone said. “As a scientist, though, I did research on it and found that you can opt to separate out the vaccines so you don’t get them all at once which is one of the risks supposedly associated with the increased chance of having autism.”

    When parents don’t vaccinate their children who are attending school because of these fears, it can lead to consequences for not just their children, but others in the classroom.

    “I think it has an extreme effect on a student’s progress and their success,” Firmstone said. “I think that it may not be that some students can actually rebound from it, while other students can take a lot longer to rebound. It’s dependant on the student, too. Their work ethic, and things like that. I think it affects every student, in one capacity or another.”

    Even if vaccinations have risks, there are advancements to vaccines to help make them safer and to prevent the spread of diseases.

    “There’s the HPV one that’s to help prevent cervical cancer and certain types of cancers in males,” Firmstone said. “That’s an advancement. I think with the flu vaccine, they are really trying to work hard at getting a better strain, or combination of strains, I think medically they’re doing that. Also, the vaccines possibly coming up for those with AIDS and HIV. There are some studies that there might be some of those in the near future.”

   Even with these advancements in vaccinations, that doesn’t stop people from being wary of anyone who’s not vaccinated.

   “Everyone is scared by the non-vaccine people,” Cuccia said. “I’m not vaccinated, and everyone’s always like oh my god, you’re going to get sicknesses. But my question is if you believe that vaccines work, and you believe that they’re effective, then why are you worried that you’re going to catch something from me? You’re vaccinated, you should be protected.”

   Vaccinations can help prevent diseases, but not everyone thinks they’re the best option for them.

   “People should at least be informed about what’s in them and do research on them before they have an opinion about them,” Tressler said.

Graphic created by: Delaney Bortz

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s