Via BB, we have this article from Wired about the anti-vaccine movement (specifically the movement which blames childhood vaccinations for autism). As a consequence of my time at OCAD, I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking about H1N1 and when I’ll be queuing up for my vaccine. At the same time, I’ve been utterly agog and aghast at the sheer number of people phoning the CBC or other news outlets with questions about the vaccine that are based solely on innuendo and hearsay. It’s absurd. Actually, it’s worse than absurd. It’s potentially lethal.
In May, The New England Journal of Medicine laid the blame for clusters of disease outbreaks throughout the US squarely at the feet of declining vaccination rates, while nonprofit health care provider Kaiser Permanente reported that unvaccinated children were 23 times more likely to get pertussis, a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes violent coughing and is potentially lethal to infants. In the June issue of the journal Pediatrics, Jason Glanz, an epidemiologist at Kaiser’s Institute for Health Research, revealed that the number of reported pertussis cases jumped from 1,000 in 1976 to 26,000 in 2004. A disease that vaccines made rare, in other words, is making a comeback. “This study helps dispel one of the commonly held beliefs among vaccine-refusing parents: that their children are not at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases,” Glanz says.
“I used to say that the tide would turn when children started to die. Well, children have started to die,” Offit says, frowning as he ticks off recent fatal cases of meningitis in unvaccinated children in Pennsylvania and Minnesota. “So now I’ve changed it to ‘when enough children start to die.’ Because obviously, we’re not there yet.”
Vaccination works. The people telling you otherwise are probably trying to sell you something to take its place, be it oil of oregano or coral calcium or special diets or books about their experiences or the opportunity to hear them speak at greater length during a more expensive seminar or conference designed to “give you the tools” to “take charge” of “your family/child/community’s health and wellness.”
Try “taking charge” when your kid gets polio. See how well that works out. Hope your health insurance is paid up.
Health insurance is something that the Wired article doesn’t bring up, but should. As of the 2007 US census, 47 million Americans were uninsured, including 11.7 percent of American children. How many of those kids get vaccinated against illness? I’m not sure. Maybe they do, when their parents can scrape together enough to make it happen. Or maybe they’re just forced, by bad luck and bad circumstance, to keep putting it off and putting it off and putting off, until one day Junior takes a slurp from the wrong can of soda and wham! sorry buddy, it’s meningitis. In the face of that reality — hordes of people who can’t access doctors — it’s no wonder that sales of snake oil are on the rise, or that snake-oil imbibers are out in force defending their snake-oil pipelines. Health insurance is for platinum customers only, but snake-oil is something everybody has access to. Everybody can tune into Oprah and watch Jenny McCarthy talk about how she doesn’t need science, because she has anecdotal evidence. Everybody can walk into a supplements store and pay the same amount that they would at a pharmacy for a different kind of pill in a similar-seeming bottle — but without needing a prescription, co-pay, or monthly premium. Flim-flam men don’t discriminate. They don’t exclude. Your money will always be good to them, no matter how low you’ve sunk.
Not that I don’t love me some vitamins. I do. I understand the need for them. And I understand the need — the raw, desperate, soul-sucking, brain-hacking need — to do something when your loved one is diagnosed with something terrible. But that something shouldn’t be the wholesale rejection of the scientific method. It shouldn’t be the careless dismissal of double-blind trials, or years of research, or the stats mentioned above. Vaccination saves lives. If you think otherwise, it’s probably because you don’t remember a time before vaccinations, when people actually got polio. You probably think that FDR just liked living in his wheelchair, because it was fun.
Some vaccinations do carry risks. Those risks are sometimes infinitesimal when compared to the risk of the ailment the vaccine seeks to prevent. And yes, as a parent, it’s your “right” to decide which risks your child should endure. It’s also your right to decide whether to put your baby in a car seat or just let him flop around the back every time you make a left turn. It’s your right to let him play with matches. It’s your right to throw him down the stairs if you think it’ll build his character. Go ahead. Do it. I mean, he’s not going to catch autism if you throw him down the stairs. You only get that from vaccines.