Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Vaccinated

In Renaissance Europe, people believed that bad smells carried diseases. On the one hand, bravo to our pre-germ theory of disease ancestors for figuring out that people got sick when they were around nasty smells. On the other, it kind of cracks me up thinking about 16th century health nuts carrying scented handkerchiefs with the same ardor that you'll see modern hypochondriacs spraying down everything with gallon jugs of Purell.

I've been thinking about this lately because of the controversy over vaccination which no modern parent can avoid stepping in lately. I have often inserted my foot ankle-deep into my mouth by bad-mouthing the anti-vaccine movement in general and Dr. Andrew Wakefield (the doctor who fraudulently posited a link between Autism and vaccines) in particular. In the past, I've felt bad about being so publicly vocal in my opinion about doctors who encourage the fearful thinking about vaccinations, but I feel like it's time to get over my fear of offending.

Vaccines work. They have globally eradicated or nearly eradicated Smallpox, Rinderpest, Polio and Guinea Worm Disease. In many parts of the world, they have eliminated Malaria, Measles, Rubella, River Blindness, and Yaws. If you're unfamiliar with what happens to children who contract these diseases, do a quick Google search. See if you're not horrified.

Few anti-vaccine advocates would argue with any of the facts about vaccines' efficacy. Their concern is with things like vaccine overload or what compounds are in the vaccines or whether the vaccines cause other horrible problems like SIDS or Autism or what happens with allergic reactions. A few advocates are simply against the idea of anything being compulsory, citing religious beliefs, etc. Some have their tin-foil hats firmly in place and believe that the government is using vaccinations as a way of tracking us, or something. The tin foil hat brigade can be a little confusing.

If you read the science, you will find that few if any of the fears about vaccines are justified. Dr. Wakefield made up the Autism link in a self-interested bid to play on parental fears and the need for a scapegoat. The CDC and the AAP are on constant precautionary alert to try to make sure that all compounds found in vaccines are safe, pulling those compounds that are even later determined to be harmless. The only justified fear of vaccines is the possibility of an anaphylactic reaction.

That was the reason stated by a parent (whom I do not know) writing on a mothering web board I frequent. To me, deciding to view the remote possibility of a severe allergic reaction as too dangerous compared to the horrors of the diseases the vaccine will prevent is a little off-putting. My father nearly died of measles as a small child. Polio crippled one of our greatest presidents. Yes, it would be terrible to have my child suffer from an anaphylactic reaction to a vaccine--but seeing a resurgence of a disease that used to kill children with regularity is the much greater danger.

I know that this post will probably not change people's minds. Those who are frightened of vaccines are having an emotional reaction to a decision that should be made rationally. As Americans, we have a national problem with our ability to make rational decisions about our children, fearing for them in so many situations when that fear is unnecessary or even harmful. This is a situation wherein the harm that comes from fear is certain. We can't keep our little ones wrapped in bubble wrap and protect them from our own fears. We can vaccinate them and make sure no one else loses a kid to a preventable disease.

Okay, I'll step back off my soapbox now.


  1. Emily, FYI There is no vaccine for CJD. It's a prion disease that can be inherited, develop sporatically, or introduced through brain matter. New Variant CJD is "Mad Cow", and there is no vaccine for that either. There may be one in development, but it has not been used to erradicate CJD. I believe when they stopped feeding cattle feed tainted with brain matter it stopped the outbreak. Otherwise, levels of CJD (in Ohio) have remained constant.
    Otherwise I'm right up there on your soap box. To not immunize your kids in my eyes boarders on neglect. Not only to your kids, but every kid they come in contact with.
    Interesting aside for all those who say that the gov't should't force us to immunize. Google Meales in San Diego and read how it cost the state $177,000 due to 1 family chosing not to vaccinate their son who travels to switzerland and ends up with measles.