Rub Some Dirt On It
In the previous blog post, I began my rant on why the anti-vaccination movement makes me see red. Just to recap what was said.
Firstly, I do believe in building natural immunity, but I do not believe trying to build a natural immunity via exposure and contraction of contagious and potentially life threatening diseases is the wisest idea we have ever dreamt up. Vaccines save lives. And the amount of misinformation surrounding this fact is terrifying.
Secondly, I feel like we as a society have been spoiled by the success of vaccines in the 20th and 21st Century. Modern mothers have had little to no first-hand experience of the horrific effects of the diseases against which we vaccinate our children. We have suffered collective amnesia that has led us to feel so emboldened that we are questioning vaccination’s very merit. And to this I say, “Ask a historian what our predecessors experienced in the 1800s and much of the 1900s? And then ask yourself if this is what you want to return to in terms of the spread of disease and the rate of child mortality?”
I will now continue my rant, with the remaining points I want to make on this topic;
- Vaccines do not cause autism or any other disorder
Time and time again vaccines have been proven to be safe. While there have always been the fringe conspiracy theorists who distrust most things, vaccines included, the watershed moment for the anti-vaccine movement occurred in 1998, when Andrew Wakefield (I cannot bring myself to call him a doctor but at the time he was) published a medical paper in medical journal, the Lancet, suggesting a link between the combination measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and gut problems in children who had autism.
The paper featured the cases of eight children – not hundreds, eight. He went on to advise at a press conference against the vaccine, which spurred the press to run sensational stories featuring children whose autism became evident around about the same time as their MMR shot. This type of tabloid reporting sent parents into a panic and that panic is seemingly still aflutter twenty years later.
Not long after publishing, the paper linking the MMR vaccine and autism was retracted from the Lancet, the gastroenterologist lost his job and, in 2010, Wakefield’s license to practice medicine was revoked as he was struck from the medical register.
Wakefield’s credibility was further destroyed by revelations of numerous conflicts of interest. Before publishing his paper, he had filed a patent for his own version of the MMR vaccine. He was also discovered to have been paid hundreds of thousands of pounds by the UK Legal Aid Fund for expert testimony in a class action suit against MMR manufacturers. None of these conflicts of interest were declared by him at any point.
While it has been firmly established scientifically and medically that there is no link between vaccines and autism, would I change my mind even if it was proven that there was a link? I can say with absolute certainty that I would rather risk my child developing autism than dying of horrific death at the hands of a preventable disease.
My child is not autistic and so I cannot comment on the various challenges and hardships both the parents and the child must face throughout their lives, I am sure there are many, but surely as a parent we would not choose death over autism, nor would our children?
Jenny McCarthy, a prominent anti-vaccine advocate, mother of a child with autism and former reality TV star, was once quoted as saying, “If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the fucking measles.” I find this statement incredibly hard to believe. What’s more I find this kind of statement derogatory when viewed in light of how people with autism feel about themselves and their neurodiversity.
Some of the most gifted human beings, those who have enriched the human race have been on the spectrum of neurodiversity – scientists, poets, film makers, artists, philosophers and inventors. And many were gifted because of their neurodiversity not in spite of it.
Even if a link was found to exist between vaccines and non-life threatening neurological disorder, are we really implying that autism is such a fearful and horrendous condition that parents and children are safer refusing vaccination in order to avoid the risk of developing autism. Are measles, mumps, rubella, polio really the safer options, the less scary illnesses, the preferred choice?
- It is absolutely everyone’s business
Those of us who believe there is a choice when it comes to vaccinating, or believe it is a parent’s right to refuse vaccination, that the only ones effected by the choice is your child and your family. That this is a private and personal decision that is nobody else’s business. When parents think this way, it acutely reveals the levels ignorance and misunderstanding in relation to vaccines and how they work.
It reveals exactly why we need to listen to medical professionals and not our sisters’ hairdresser’s auntie. It reveals exactly why misinformation is so dangerous as a video made by a relatively unknown source with soft music, questionable statistics and hard hitting statements shared on Facebook is more credible that your family doctor.
Your child is not an island and your decisions do not only effect your family’s health but other children’s’ as well. The reason for this is because vaccines do not just protect the individual, they are at their most powerful and effective when a certain percentage of the population has been vaccinated.
Vaccines work in two ways. The first, is by using dead or damaged pathogens, our bodies are exposed to a small amount of the actual illness you are being vaccinated against in order to force a response from your immune system. This provides our bodies with the opportunity, in the absence of any real danger or symptoms, to develop antibodies and forming an immunity against that particular illness. This does not mean one cannot contract the disease, albeit the chances of this are significantly lower, but if on the off chance one does get sick the effects should be far less severe.
The second way they work is termed herd immunity. Basically, what herd immunity means is that each contagious disease has a magic number that acts as a barrier to this disease progressing and resulting in an outbreak. If enough people are vaccinated against disease (typically 90% and higher), it has trouble spreading because there are so few susceptible people left to infect.
This herd immunity is important in several ways – it lessens the severity of an outbreak, it has the potential to eradicate a disease entirely and almost the most important benefit is to those members of our communities who are most vulnerable.
Herd immunity protects those who are too young to be vaccinated (like newborns), those who have allergies and cannot be vaccinated and or those who are autoimmune compromised either from autoimmune disease or other illnesses and their treatments – HIV/AIDS, lymphoma, leukemia, undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
In fact the above mentioned examples are not exhaustive, there is a myriad of instances where children require their community to provide them with protection from contagious diseases and infection. And the only way to protect the whole herd is through everyone that can vaccinate, vaccinating.
Nobody can force another person to succumb to medical treatment, it is not ethical nor is it legal, however, those parents who choose to forgo inoculating their children against these diseases need to be ready to accept being rejected by the greater herd. Essentially, these parents have broken a social contract that we all agree to when we choose to live amongst others.
Perhaps they should form their own herd that is excluded from the greater population – this mini-herd should not be allowed to attend schools, hospitals, public transport, communal areas with the greater vaccinated herd because they have chosen to reject the norms that keep that herd safe. But look on the bright side, at least this mini-herd can guarantee that it will not contain any children with autism (insert smirking face emoji).
- I dare you to show me a completely natural and modern lifestyle in the 21st Century
Some vaccine sceptics site the ingredients of vaccines as being problematic. Many people freaked out about the preservative thimerosal (antifungal agent used to preserve multi-dose vials) and its dangers – which are non-existent – because it also contains a mercury atom in it and mercury is bad. Really bad. The mercury in thimerosal is ethyl mercury which gets flushed from the body, unlike methyl mercury which is actually pretty bad for us.
So, perhaps next time a vaccine sceptic is enjoying some tuna sashimi, which incidentally does contain the bad mercury, remind me again why we don’t vaccinate our kids.
Because of this outrage, thimerosal was removed from vaccines, which didn’t achieve much other than increasing the price of vaccines as the cost efficiency of multi-dose vials was lost.
Other troublesome ingredients include formaldehyde, aluminium and hydrochloric acid. Not only are all of these ingredients present in such miniscule amounts they are negligible, our environment offers higher doses of these chemicals on a daily basis.
There is more formaldehyde in an apple than in a vaccine, in fact your body produces formaldehyde as a natural metabolic by-product. Hydrochloric acid is used to make the alkaline vaccine pH neutral, thus the acid is neutralised. On average, every day, we breathe, eat or drink 30-50mg of aluminium, more than 20 times the maximum allowed dose in a vaccine.
In all seriousness, I am not trying to pretend that chemicals and toxins are good for you and that we shouldn’t worry about what we put into our bodies. But what I am trying impress is that we need to retain perspective when considering these things – we are probably exposed to higher doses of chemicals and toxins sitting in traffic, colouring our hair or eating processed food than we are going to inject through a vaccine.
I feel it is far more unnatural for us to stand by and watch a large number of children dying from contagious diseases that are entirely vaccine preventable.
As one mom on Facebook, so eloquently put it: “People say ‘well what did people do before vaccines/antibiotics/pasteurisation?’ as if that’s an argument for going natural. They died, Carol. A lot of people died.”
- Vaccines do work, just ask Small Pox
Some vaccination sceptics believe that vaccines do not work. And while it is true that they are not 100% effective, no drug is. I for one would rather give my child even a 50% chance of protections versus no protection at all.
This belief is reinforced by bad maths. Often when at outbreak of a disease does occur, more vaccinated people fall ill than non-vaccinated. Well, duh, people. The number of vaccinated people is far higher than the number not vaccinated – so in absolute terms yes, less unvaccinated individuals fall ill, but in percentages the vaccinated population always comes out less likely to fall prey to contagious diseases.
But I guess the best way for us to learn the value of vaccinations is to see the resurgence of the awful diseases that have been all but eradicated. With outbreaks of Whopping Cough, Measles and Mumps being seen around the world, including South Africa. And Europe seeing a four-fold increase in measles cases in 2017 and 37 deaths in the first half of 2018, the highest numbers in a decade, we will soon learn the hard way what our choice has cost us or worse what is has cost the other children our unvaccinated child encounters.