There’s been a lot of hype about the dangers of vaccinating our kids lately, and many people even believe that vaccinations can cause autism.  If you’re a parent with young children, with everything you read and hear about in the news, it can be very scary to think you could be harming your child with something that’s supposed to help keep them safe!

Every day, kids are exposed to hundreds of germs that activate and strengthen their immune system.  Dr. Peter Hotez says vaccines are just another way of ensuring they are exposed to these antigens, providing protection for them and others from harmful or deadly diseases.

I recently listened to a podcast interview with Dr. Peter Hotez, a pediatrician, vaccine scientist, and father of an autistic child, who puts everything into perspective.  First, he proves that vaccines cannot cause autism, and second, he confirms that the chance of a child having a severe reaction to a vaccine is 1 in a million to 1 in 10 million.  (He also totally changed my mind on the flu shot, which I’ll get to later in the article.)  Even if you don’t have young children, you still have to appreciate how science can bring order and logic to an emotional and confusing topic, debunking what all the conspiracy theorists out there are using to scare you.

By the way—you know me as a real estate investment guy.  So why am I writing about health and vaccines?  Because I’m also a human being.  When I learn something that truly changes my mind or makes an impact on the way I live my life, I want to share it with others.  Just like sharing useful financial or investment information and ideas, our health and social issues are just as important, and knowing about these things allows us to live better, more-informed lives.

Ok, back to the podcast.  Dr. Hotez has an impressive background.  He is one of the world’s foremost experts in vaccine development and neglected tropical diseases—diseases that affect the world’s poorest people.  He is the Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, he teaches pediatrics and molecular virology & microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, and he’s the Director of Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development.  If that’s not enough, something else I found out about Dr. Hotez is that in 2015, he was one of four Science Envoys for the U.S. Department of State.  Science Envoys include Nobel prizewinners and other eminent doctors, scientists, and engineers who advise and represent the U.S. government on scientific progress and development.  He was basically a “vaccine diplomat,” so, I would say he’s a little bit of an authority on the subject of vaccines.

Why vaccines cannot cause autism

In the podcast interview, Dr. Hotez straight out states: “Vaccines don’t cause autism, because autism is already underway and visible in MRIs in early brain development.”  So why do some people think that vaccines—particularly the MMR (Measles/Mumps/Rubella) vaccine—cause autism?  Well, if you look at the timeline, children tend to show the first signs of autism between 12 and 18 months, right around the time they get their first MMR vaccines.  Around the age of two, their brain size increases dramatically, so the autism manifests even more—and can coincide with another set of vaccines.  So, the timing makes it logical to want to connect the two.  But, here’s the thing. According to Dr. Hotez, it’s not even plausible that the vaccines would cause autism since it can be detected at 6 months of age or even before a child is born.  Thanks to developments in science, doctors can now go back and look at early MRIs and see some indicators they couldn’t see before.  And the autism spectrum is wider than it used to be, so conditions that were previously associated with other things are now being included in the autism spectrum, which is partly why there seems to be a rise in autism.

Plus, Dr. Hotez points out that there has never actually been a case proving that a vaccine was the cause of a child’s autism.  The most common issue or thing that could go wrong is a shoulder injury from the injection being given in the wrong place, and even that is still a 1 in a million chance.  (To put it in perspective, you’re much more likely to be struck by lightning than have a severe reaction to a vaccine.)

One million kids later…

Determined to put science behind the anti-science scare tactics, Dr. Hotez spent months researching the potential vaccines-autism link.  Studying an enormous amount of data from one million children, here is what he found: “The studies show that children who are vaccinated are no more likely to be on the autism spectrum than unvaccinated children, while children with an autism diagnosis are no more likely to have gotten vaccinated than children not on the autism spectrum.”  That’s straight from one of the world’s most eminent vaccine scientists, folks.  In other words, a million kids later, evidence shows that there is absolutely no link between autism and vaccines.

What are vaccines made of?

Some people think that vaccines are chemicals, but they are not.  They are antigens, which, as far as I understand it, means they contain a small amount of the disease germ swimming in a culture or saline solution.  When the antigens are injected into the blood stream, small amounts of disease particles cause an immune response in the body which produces the antibodies that fight the disease. 

Is it hard on the baby’s delicate system? 

They now have combined vaccines to decrease the number of shots needed, so you can give your child one shot to immunize against six life-threatening diseases.  This seems like a great scientific accomplishment, but some people are concerned that exposure to all six antigens at once can be traumatic for a baby’s young immune system.  Again, Dr. Hotez comes back with a solid scientific argument.  He says that a baby’s system is exposed to hundreds of new antigens every day, and that those six are basically a small drop in the bucket.  Hearing this left me with the impression that, instead of taxing a baby’s system, exposure to antigens is a natural and important part of strengthening a baby’s immune system.  Again—I am no scientist, but it just makes logical sense when you hear it this way.

Is measles making a comeback?

I always think of “the measles” as a thing of the past.  I mean, who gets measles anymore?  In the 1950s and early 1960s, it afflicted 3 to 4 million people a year, accounting for about 500 measles-related deaths a year.  But once we all started getting vaccinated in the mid-1960s, measles was virtually eliminated in the U.S. by 2010 with only 63 reported cases.  Guess how many cases of measles have been reported in the U.S. so far this year (as of September 12th, with more than three months still to go)?  1,241!  Is this running parallel with the anti-vaccine movement?  It’s crazy that something that’s so preventable with one shot and costs about $1 can be reaching such high numbers in this country.  According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), 100% of children under the age of 18 who had the measles have not been vaccinated.  In fact, Dr. Hotez said that the people most at risk are babies under a year old—too young to get the vaccine.  It’s being spread by older, unvaccinated children or adults.  Parents, please vaccinate your children!

Image source: https://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html.
Visit the CDC website to see the current number of measles cases reported, updated every Monday.

A couple other things I learned about measles: it’s one of the world’s most contagious diseases.  The virus remains active and contagious in the air and on surfaces for 2 hours, and it can be transmitted from 4 days prior to 4 days after the symptoms develop.  Dr. Hotez gives measles a “reproductive score” of 12 to 18, meaning that when one person gets it, they’re likely to give it to 12 to 18 other people!  That’s why cases will suddenly pop up and spread so fast like they did earlier this year in Vancouver, WA—an epidemic that cost $1 million, lasted 75 days, and had a reported 77 cases.  (About 93% of those were children under 18 years old, with the majority being younger than 10.)  It makes me wonder if it should even be optional to vaccinate, especially for something that is so contagious.

Flu shot or not?

How many of you get your flu shot?  Admittedly, I didn’t think it was important or even good to get a flu shot if you’re younger and healthy.  Dr. Hotez has convinced me that is not the case.  Lots of people I talk to don’t get the flu shot—though some do—and even podcast host Joe Rogan admitted he didn’t think it was necessary because he’s a fit, healthy guy.  Dr. Hotez gave Rogan the 3rd degree, saying he should count himself as “very lucky” that he hadn’t gotten a bad case of the flu.  Something else that totally surprised me: Influenza is the single leading infectious disease killer of adults in the U.S.

Case in point: In the 2017-2018 flu season (basically, Nov 2017—March 2018, a period of only 5 months), there were nearly 80,000 influenza-related deaths in the U.S., at a time when flu shots were at an all-time low.  (As a comparison, we lost 58,000 men and women in the entire Vietnam War!)  And while a lot of people were older or already had an unhealthy immune system, many people who got the flu and died from it were just like me.  This definitely convinced me to get my flu shot next season.  I figure, what could it hurt?  Even if I get the flu after having gotten the flu shot, I now understand that there’s still a good chance that it could keep me from getting really, really sick and maybe even keep me on the planet a little longer.

Rogan and Hotez cover a lot of ground in this podcast.  Another thing that struck me was the fact that the world’s most poverty-related diseases are in the 20 wealthiest economies (G20 countries), including 12 million Americans who live with what he calls “neglected tropical diseases”—most of which are not understood by the medical community and will probably never be diagnosed.

One preventable and curable tropical disease called “toxocariasis” is from a parasite that kids get from running around barefoot.  It can migrate to the brain, causing developmental delays.  The sad part is that it is often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all; people (parents and doctors alike) just chalk it up to the child being “slow” and leave it at that.  And to think that it could easily be prevented or cured with a visit to a knowledgeable doctor and a pill that you take once a day for 5 days!

Dr. Hotez is obviously passionate about this topic—he said nobody is studying it.  “People get more excited talking about Ebola, which will never make it to the U.S. as an epidemic, but their eyes glaze over when I start talking about neglected tropical diseases already here at epidemic levels on U.S. soil.”

With everything that we’re doing for the poor in other countries, what about taking care of things here at home?  Let’s start by getting our kids (and ourselves) vaccinated!

P.S. If you’d like to read the show notes or listen to the podcast episode on your computer or mobile phone (without needing to download any type of podcast app), you can find it here.