MeatlessMonday Opinion

Vaccines & Vegan-ism

As a public health professional, learning that some vegans choose to forgo vaccinating their children because some may contain trace amounts of animal products or be produced using an animal product - for example, the yellow fever vaccine is produced with eggs - is concerning.

Within the ethos of veganism, using animal products is causing harm to the animal, but the most harmful part of vaccines or any medical product to animals is the quality assurance and safety testing.

Most medical products, such as vaccines, need to go through rigorous testing to ensure they are safe before they may be used in humans.

This process usually involves many different animals and animal species, starting with mice and ending with pigs, monkeys or apes. It’s not pretty, it’s not kind. The animals have horrible lives, but it is a necessary process to ensure the safety of the vaccine before they are given to humans.

In a previous article, I outlined how to ensure your cosmetic products are not tested on animals.

These products’ ingredients are usually safe enough that they do not need to be tested on animals to ensure their safety, but unfortunately vaccines and most medicines do not have the same safety assurances and need the testing. It’s an ugly downside to our miraculous medical advances, but in my view, it’s a necessary evil. 

With the recent rises in vaccine-preventable diseases in the ‘western world’, I was curious to dig in deeper to see what the reasons may be.

One typical excuse stated by a lot of parents is that they just “don’t think it’s healthy”, or they get “too many vaccines in too short of a time”, and they  want them to be spaced out more. The previously debunked paper by Andrew Wakefield (who has since had his medical license revoked) claimed that vaccines cause autism.

This unfounded fear was one of the main reasons why many parents in the US and Europe chose not to vaccinate their children for many years.

Now, the reasons are more vague than the ones I listed above.

Vegan parents have also listed concerns related to animal welfare and animal products in the vaccines. Another reason I’ve come across is the belief that a vegan diet is in itself protective and healing.

While a vegan diet helps to prevent many non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, it does little to keep people safe from infectious diseases like measles.

While there are rare cases of adverse effects from vaccines, they are rare. I feel terribly for the parents whose child had an adverse effect from a vaccine, it’s scary and can be dangerous. Some children end up getting sick after being vaccinated and there is the rare seizure, but recent research has connected those seizures to a rare syndrome, not the vaccination. The most common side effect of vaccines is a little redness and swelling at the injection site. 

In my opinion, thinking that you are somehow more knowledgeable than the medical and scientific community who have studied these vaccines for decades to ensure they are safe is extremely ego-centric.

I know these parents are only trying to do what is best for their children, trying to protect them and keep them safe, but if you truly want your child protected, they need to be vaccinated. Measles, diphtheria, mumps, and rubella are all serious diseases. It’s why scientists worked to find a vaccine so children wouldn’t have to suffer from the illness any more.

In addition to protecting your own child, you are protecting others’ too.

Herd immunity is when there are enough people in the population who are vaccinated that if the disease is introduced to that population, it won’t spread.

Some children and adults with low immune systems cannot get vaccinated. Therefore their only protection is herd immunity. If a large enough percentage of the population foregoes vaccination, these vulnerable children and adults will also lose their protection. 

Yes, vaccines are harmful to animals.

Animals are treated terribly in medical research. They’re poked and prodded and injected with all manner of things and then killed. It’s sad and terrible, but in this case, necessary because there is no alternative to vaccines. I wish there were a more humane option to protect our children, but at this time there’s not.

Those who are on the fence about vaccination – if not for your own child’s protection, please think of those who cannot get vaccinated. Your child’s vaccination protects them too.

For me, the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the harm.

Ali Kimbrel is a public health professional interested in improving health domestically and internationally, and is lead columnist for WEEKENDER’s “#MeatlessMonday” series. A self-described vegan, she is passionate about inspiring and educating people about plant-based diets and lifestyle.

Follow her for on Instagram for more tips and inspiration on being vegan in Rwanda.

{Featured image by Rodrigo Valladares}

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