Friday, May 30, 2014

The Vaccine Controversy

Once upon a time in the first half of the twentieth century and for centuries before that, there were numerous diseases that could kill you. OK, here in the first part of the twenty-first century there are still many diseases that can kill you. The sad part is that some of these diseases were almost eradicated.

Polio is one of the most significant of these illnesses. In the early 1950's and before, parents were terrified of this debilitating and often fatal disease that usually struck children. There were other diseases that often spread like wildfire, measles, mumps, chicken pox, whooping cough and others that were less serious but not benign or without consequences. Then there was the Salk polio vaccine. It was like a miracle. You get a shot or two and polio was no longer a threat. Our parents couldn't get us inoculated fast enough. The normal procedure was to go to a school or some other public building on a Saturday to get a free polio shot. Besides our parents, the government was anxious to rid us of this devastating affliction. I'm old enough to have gotten some of the earliest polio vaccine shots. It was at a public school in my neighborhood with hundreds of other kids. I didn't attend that school but that was the designated place. The inoculations were widely advertised and promoted by TV, radio, newspapers, schools and churches. And they were free. The government realized that prevention was far more economical than treatment after the fact not to mention the reduction of family pain and grief.

There was no concern about mercury in the vaccine, autism or for that matter any side effects. The stuff they were shooting into our arm would, for the most part, prevent polio. Polio was the enemy, polio was a killer and crippler of children. With the help of government, parents and schools we virtually eliminated polio by the final quarter of the last century in this country. There was the occasional isolated case and a few scattered breakouts but for the most part polio was gone. The Salk polio vaccine shot gave way to the Sabin oral vaccine. No more shots, you just ingested a sugar cube that had been infused with the vaccine. I seem to remember that it was pink.

After the polio vaccine success, other diseases were targeted. There were breakthroughs in mumps, measles, chicken pox, whooping cough and others over the years. All of these are survivable for the most part but have consequences for many. The vaccine for all these diseases when I was growing up was to catch the bug, sometimes a little on purpose to get it over with. I had mumps, measles and chicken pox as a child, They ran through classrooms and schools in waves. Once you had the disease you were immune. Now there are vaccines to prevent these illnesses before they and their side effects infected their victims. From my experience, none of these ailments were pleasurable. Mumps hurt my ears and throat, measles and chicken pox were uncomfortable and itchy. There was fever and achiness involved. With the measles I had to stay in a darkened room because of some issue with bright light. I'm not sure if that was/is real or some old wive's tale. It meant no TV or reading plus I was moved to the guest bedroom which faced north and only had one window. My bedroom had west and south facing windows. The radio was my friend. Worst of all, I had to miss some school time. OK, that was actually the best part. Plus Mom was very sympathetic.

After several generations of effective vaccines and aggressive dissemination we had virtually eliminated these diseases. Now because of wars, terrorism, politics, religious objections, stupidity, selfishness, fake science and a few celebrity kooks we have reduced inoculations or rebelled against vaccines. The problem with this selfish resistance to vaccines is that it only takes a few unprotected people to allow the disease to reappear and regain a foothold.

There is a new measles outbreak in United States this year. Supposedly the worst since the disease was virtually eliminated by vaccines. One of the sad facts about this outbreak is that those who decided not to be vaccinated spread measles to those who can't be vaccinated, like children under a year old.

That behavior seems very selfish to me. There will always be those in our society who legitimately can't be vaccinated. Some are too young, some are too old and some have medical conditions that prohibit vaccination. Barring those reasons everybody else should be in favor of eliminating these diseases. Religious opposition to good health and elimination of unnecessary pain, suffering and death seems backwards. The fact that these illnesses were almost eliminated when people were being vaccinated and now they are reappearing when people are skipping the shots should be proof that they work.

The autism argument doesn't seem to hold water. Every legitimate study has shown that there is no connection between youth vaccinations and autism. I'm not naive enough to think that we don't have an issue with increased incidents of autism, ADHD, asthma, allergies and other conditions with our children. Part of the increase in cases has got to be due to better and more aggressive diagnosis. Some of these conditions were not even identified when I was a child so obviously they couldn't be diagnosed. That fact aside, I think there have been environmental, diet and behavioral changes in the last 40 years that have contributed to the increase in these conditions. I have thoughts on those issues too but I'll save that for another time.

In this world where people can transverse the globe in hours we need to be more diligent than ever. We need to eradicate the diseases we can at the source and protect those in other places for the times those viruses hop a plane or ship. When science  gives us a 99.98% cure for a devastating problem, we should accept it. When the vaccine is effective at prevention and elimination of side effects or death we should embrace it.

Fake science, fear mongering and a few bimbo celebrities should not be able to trump the medical facts. Always do the research and always question your doctor. That said, don't give more credence to Jenny McCarthy than you do to your doctor, the Journal of Pediatrics or other reputable medical publications.

I'm not sure of the exact way to solve this problem. I'm not in favor of arresting people for refusing a shot or tying them down while the vaccine police inoculate them. I am in favor of denying access to public schools for those who lack the proper vaccinations. Maybe denial of reentry into the US after a trip abroad without the required vaccinations or a quarantine period. No get out of jail free card for moral, social or even religious objections. If you feel so strongly that vaccinations are evil then either home school your kids or start an inoculation free school. Don't join the local youth athletic program either.

We all have to make sacrifices to live in society. We have rules and laws about driving, taxes, zoning, watering our lawns, vehicle inspections, trespassing and a million others. Most without religious, fake science or celebrity exceptions. Why can't vaccinations be included among the stuff we have to do to live in society or suffer the consequences or pay the price if we don't.

This balance of personal freedoms versus societal needs is always tricky. I usually come down on the side of personal choice and freedom. In this case I deviate from that norm because innocent children are involved. Little Johnny doesn't deserve to get polio, measles, smallpox or mumps because you have an objection to getting a shot. Get with the program or stay isolated.

Agree, disagree, think I'm nuts?


No comments:

Post a Comment