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Are vaccines safe?
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Vaccines save millions of lives

Vaccines are one of the most effective and cost-effective public health measures to prevent disease. Immunisation programmes internationally have contributed significantly to the decline, and in some cases eradication, of infectious diseases.


For accurate information on the efficiency of vaccines, consult the WHO website.[1] Until the beginning of the 20th Century, infectious diseases were the most common cause of death.[2] Frequent epidemics and pandemics killed millions of people. For instance, the bubonic plague that swept Europe in the 14th Century killed an estimated 60% of the population,[3] and the Influenza pandemic of 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people.[4]

The Argument

Forms of immunisation have  been practised for hundreds of years in the East, but Dr Edward Jenner is considered the father of vaccinology in the West.[5] Having noticed that milkmaids who were exposed to cowpox in their work did not catch smallpox, he inoculated his gardener’s son with cow pox. A hundred years later, Louis Pasteur developed vaccines against cholera and anthrax.  Most countries with effective primary health systems such as the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada offer free childhood immunisations.  Vaccines stimulate the body’s immune system to protect the person against subsequent infection or disease. Immunisation is a proven tool for controlling and eliminating life-threatening infectious diseases (such as polio and smallpox) and is estimated to avert between 2 and 3 million deaths each year.[1] The number of childhood deaths have been decimated worldwide due to immunisation and several diseases have been declared eradicated by the World Health Organization. An individual’s immune system can protect them from infectious diseases through either experiencing the disease or through vaccination. Immunisation uses the body’s natural defence mechanism, the immune response, to build resistance to specific infections. When an immunised person comes in contact with that disease in the future, their immune system will respond to prevent them developing the disease.[6] Immunisation gives the same protection as having experienced the disease without the dangers of the disease itself. Vaccinations induce active immunity and the ‘immunological memory’ allows the body to respond to the infection if exposed at a later date.[7]

Counter arguments

The assertion that vaccines save lives or that vaccines eradicate diseases cannot be supported by science. Historically, it is impossible to retroactively prove that a vaccine was responsible for the eradication of a disease. We can believe that a vaccine was responsible based on the chronology of the disease and the data available, but we cannot conclusively prove this fact. Also, just because vaccines save lives doesn't mean that they are safe. If they cause a significant decrease in the quality of a child's life, they are not safe, regardless of whether or not they save the child's life.[8]



[P1] Immunisation is the most cost-effective health measure. [P2] Millions of lives have been saved and many infectious diseases largely eradicated. [P3] Information presented as evidence of widespread harmful effects has been comprehensively disproved.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] It is impossible to prove that the vaccine, not other factors stopped the disease killing people. [Rejecting P3] Just because they save lives doesn't mean they are safe. There are other ways to damage a child without killing it.

Further Reading

Benedictow, O. (2005) The Black Death: The greatest catastrophe ever. History Today, 55(3). Honigsbaum, M. (2009) Living with. Enza: The forgotten story of Britain and. the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918. London: Palgrave Macmillan; Rice, G. (2005) Black November: The 1918 Influenza Pandemic in New Zealand. Christchurch NZ: Canterbury University Press; Ritchie, H. & Roser, M. (2019) Causes of Death. Riedel S. (2005). Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination. Proceedings (Baylor University. Medical Center), 18(1), 21–25. doi:10.1080/08998280.2005.11928028


This page was last edited on Monday, 23 Mar 2020 at 14:26 UTC

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