Owen turned four (months) recently, and he was taken to the doctor for that round of inoculations. That reminded me that when Cathy and I were doing childbirth classes we discovered that the lunatic fringe is alive and well in Melbourne. The subject was “Sleeping Soundly”, the opening minutes of which were about vaccination for no reason I could discern.
The World Health Organisation, whom the Choices for Childbirth speakers quote when lamenting (quite rightly, in my opinion) the high medical intervention rate during childbirth, is studiously ignored when talking about how one ought to explore both sides of the “debate” over immunization. The WHO says “No child should be denied immunization without serious thought about the consequences, both to the child and the community”.
Humans are terrible at estimating risk (also known as probabilities). They happily play lotteries (one in millions chance of winning), but then drive their kids to school (running a pronounced risk of a car crash and injuries vs a vanishingly small risk of a perverted old man snatching their kid and having his way with them). Humans are prejudiced machines – they decide things without knowing all the information (pre-justice, or pre-judge). They make decisions based on what they can recall on the subject. And this counterpointed by the news media, which reports news. They don’t report that millions of Aussies got out of bed, went to work and came home again, without incident. That’s not news. Someone being bitten (or better yet, taken) by a shark, that’s news – because it hardly ever happens. Things that are unusual, different, out of the ordinary and notable are part of every night’s TV viewing. A viewing night of four hours – 240 minutes – includes 30 minutes of really unusual stuff, so odd and weird that the TV station sent a film crew out to take pictures of it (ever woken to find a camera crew filming you getting out of bed? “This morning, Josh got out of bed…” No, didn’t think so). And humans think “I better be careful when I go swimming, a shark could get me. I’ve seen that happen a couple of times in the last few months. In fact, just to be safe, I won’t go swimming”. We have crime shows on every night, leading viewers to think “there’s a lot of crime out and about. I’ll drive to the shops”. The news loves a good kidnapping “little girl snatched from her bedroom”, and happily ignores the fact that almost all child abductions are performed by relatives. But we’ll drive them to school, to keep them safe (and fat). So when the Tabloid TV shows announce that a child has reacted poorly to an inoculation, immunization rates plummet, in the same way breast cancer screening rates jumped right after Kylie got it. More often than not, they use their power for evil rather than good.
These same TV shows give equal time to minority and majority opinions, in the interests of fairness. Which would be fine, except humans will go “hmmm, it seems that professional opinion on this seems to be divided down the middle, I’ll just be safe and not vaccinate my child (besides, needles hurt).” It’s dangerous and irresponsible, scaremongering amongst the vaccination decision makers – parents. And they’re being affected by it. Infectious diseases the developed world thought it had eradicated (think whooping cough, which was almost wiped out – ) are resurfacing as a result of the crazy hippies who reckon that this vaccination thing is all a money making scam by the multinational pharmaceutical companies.
Vaccines don’t always work. They are not 100% effective. You can get a disease after being vaccinated against it – the vaccine may not provoke an immune response. And that doesn’t have to matter.
Needles hurt. Vaccines have an inherent level of danger. Injecting pathogens into your body isn’t something it’s really designed for, and keeping vaccines viable for an acceptable time means there’s stuff in them that some bodies will not react well to. Some immune systems go ape shit when they see the disease. Some people die. I’d like to point out how badly the bodies of these people will react when they get the real, live, unattenuated, unadulterated, honest-to-God virulent form of the disease – exceptionally poorly. But none the less, there is a potential cost associated with being vaccinated.
I’m going to talk about Herd immunity and the free loader effect. A certain level of non-vaccinated members of the population is acceptable, but varies from disease to disease – the immunization you’re given may not invoke an immune response in you, but at the same time, if about 90% of the population is immune, generally an infectious disease is not going to become pandemic. Which is fine, and everyone’s happy. Until God damn hippies start running around not getting immunised, becoming free loaders on those of the population who have run the risk of reacting horribly. With enough people unimmunised, eventually the herd immunity effect breaks down, and the kids of the hippies end up getting diseases that we thought no one got anymore. And, no doubt, the hippies whinge about it, but refuse to take the blame for the kids of responsible parents who got the disease despite being vaccinated against it – because their bodies failed to produce an immune response. And those responsible parents will be too grief stricken to blame the hippies for killing their child.
The adverse reactions a vaccination may produce are mild compared to what would happen if they actually got the disease. The only elevated risk is to those intolerant of egg products.
Let’s have a look at what these diseases do. Because, if you were against immunizing against them, they can’t be that bad, insofar as diseases go, right? Because you’re happy to run the risk of your child catching and living with (and dying from) these diseases, verus the risk of your child having “something happen to them” as a result of being vaccinated.
From the Australian National immunisation program schedule of immunisations, things that you’re innoculated against:
- At the moment of birth: hemorrhaging. Normally Vitamin K is produced by bacteria in the intestines, and dietary deficiency is extremely rare unless the intestines are heavily damaged. But newborns are nearly sterile – if the embryonic sack is intact, they are sterile. Thus, no bacteria, and no Vitamin K, which is needed for the posttranslational modification of certain proteins, mostly required for blood coagulation.
- Polio, check out photos of polio victims. The virus invades the nervous system, and the onset of paralysis can occur in a matter of hours. Polio can spread widely before physicians detect the first signs of a polio outbreak – so forget pulling your child from school when someone is noticed with polio, this is not a prophylactic method with any level of success.
- Diphtheria, check out photos of children with Diptheria, a bacterial infection. Long-term effects include cardiomyopathy (the heart wastes away) and peripheral neuropathy (ie, paralysis).
- Pertussis or whooping cough. Doesn’t sound so bad, a bit of a cough. Check out the photos of babies with a bit of a cough. Complications of the disease include pneumonia, encephalitis, pulmonary hypertension, and secondary bacterial superinfection.
- Rubella, a relatively mild disease (photos) unless it’s caught by a developing fetus. Lifelong disability results. But I guess that’s the fetus’ problem, not yours.
- Mumps usually causes painful enlargement of the salivary or parotid glands. Orchitis (swelling of the testes) occurs in 10-20% of infected males, but sterility only rarely ensues; a viral meningitis occurs in about 5% of those infected. In older people, other organs may become involved including the central nervous system, the pancreas, the prostate, the breasts, and other organs. The incubation period is usually 12 to 24 days (again, don’t bother pulling your kids from school – they’ve already got it). Mumps is generally a mild illness in children in developed countries. So your child should get it.
- Hepatitis B – Over one-third of the world’s population has been or is actively infected by hepatitis B virus, so it can’t be all that bad. Hepatitis B infection may lead to a chronic inflammation of the liver, leading to cirrhosis. This type of infection dramatically increases the incidence of liver cancer. Only 5% of neonates that acquire the infection from their mother at birth will clear the infection. Seventy percent of those infected between the age of one to six will clear the infection. When the infection is not cleared, one becomes a chronic carrier of the virus.
There are other diseases, but I’ve only got so much time. Read the Australian federal government’s Immunisation Myths and Realities booklet. And for the love of all that’s right in the world, get your children immunised.
Just because you don’t understand statistics, science or even simple logical reasoning, doesn’t make vaccinating your children a bad thing. Perhaps, if you don’t understand any of these things, you should leave the decision making on vaccination to the professionals?