The vaccination debate

Let me start off by pointing out that I am not one to follow the “party line” vis-à-vis healthy and safety. I was trained as a medical anthropologist and I know plenty about paradigm shifting, assumptions, and authoritative knowledge. I don’t eat GMO foods because no one has proved they are safe and several European studies have indicated they may be harmful. I eat organic because I am aware of the links between pesticides and health. I don’t get the flu shot because the virus mutates faster than the vaccine can keep up with and I don’t feel like giving pharmacies more money for false security. I am basically a crystal sucking earth mother hippie who spends a lot of time dissecting the fallibility of Western allopathic medicine.

I vaccinate my kids.

What I try not to do is sneer at those who don’t. For one thing, they are all not all stupid and blindly following Jenny McCarthy. Calling people stupid is not helping. Mockery is not helping. Especially since a lot of the pro-vaccine camp trot out things that are demonstrably untrue. Anyone who says vaccines are 100% safe and 100% of children can have them is wrong. Vaccines can have side effects. It’s rare but vaccines can have lethal side effects. Children who respond adversely to vaccines or have siblings who had bad reactions may not be vaccinating under the advice of their pediatrician. Some children with compromised immune systems cannot vaccinate.

I know this and vaccinate my kids anyway because it is still the safer option than the diseases they could get without it. The chance of dying from a vaccine is multitudes smaller than the chance of dying of polio, measles, pertussis, or diphtheria — just to name a few of the disease vaccinated against. Even chickenpox, which I had as a kid, has a rare lethal complication that  occurs at a (not much) higher rate than a severely negative reaction to a vaccine; getting the vaccine was the lowest risk. However, only the ignorant think that there is NO risk to getting a vaccine.

People who choose not to vaccinate have often done more research into the topic than those who are pro-vaccine. Reputable sources like the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control have a plethora of information about the rare but terrible side effects that can happen during vaccination. That’s why I sweat when my kids are getting their shots – especially the first ones. I don’t blame parents for being scared once they are aware of all the eventualities. The trouble is that a lot of the information people are receiving about the non-necessity of vaccines has been altered/modified to present findings that are incorrect.

First, there is the now-debunked link between autism spectrum disorders and vaccines. The only study to ever get a correlation turned out to be falsified (although no one knew that for years and to pretend fears were “groundless” in 1998 is malarkey). However, autism is weird. It is passed on genetically but it can be ‘turned on’ or made ‘worse’ by environmental factors like pollution and pesticides. Thus, a vaccine may appear to cause autism because it triggers it into a more dramatic state. That dramatic state was probably just a matter of time since autism seems to be a done deal in utero, but a parent who has seen this happen cannot be called “stupid” for noticing the correlation between the shots and a kid’s behavior.

Secondly, there is a lot of information flying around on Facebook right now explaining how “science” shows vaccines are useless and that is all a conspiracy by Big Pharma. It is easy to take these things at face value since Big Pharma has been busted more than once playing fast and loose with lives in the pursuit of money. I would never advise someone to vaccinate based on blind trust of the status quo. Nonetheless, many of the ‘facts’ being promulgated to justify anti-vaccine positions are incorrect.

For one thing, there is this deceptive chart used to argue that measles had disappeared prior to vaccination:

G11.4-UK-Measles-1838-1978

It looks like good hygiene & isolating the patient made measles disappear before vaccines, right? Except that is incorrect. The data is from the UK and has been split/crunched/presented in a way that elides the drop off after vaccines. Here’s a more accurate chart using the same numbers that shows what was really happening in the UK (who did not introduce vaccine until 1968):

Measles_incidence_England&Wales_1940-2007

The data in the first chart neglects to mention that the UK did not have the vaccination until AFTER the 1963 date given in the paragraph preceding it. The evidence is more clear using US data:

Measles_US_1944-2007_inset

Infectious diseases didn’t just magically disappear with the advent of flush toilets. Polio and smallpox and diphtheria are gone because of vaccines, not because of “natural cycles”. These mythical natural cycles didn’t eradicate disease any more than global warming is really being caused by “sunspots” rather than carbon emissions.

Here is a graphic that makes it a little more obvious what vaccines have done for health and safety:

vaccine-infographic-e1361475068110

Anti-vaccine sites also tout that there have been other outbreaks that cannot be tied to the anti-vaccine movement. Yes, but no. The outbreaks occurred in unvaccinated populations and spread to vaccinated kids – especially those who had only had one dose. That is why the second dose of the vaccine was introduced. Measles epidemics start in non-vaccinated populations and then drift into vaccinated populations because the vaccines are only 99% effective. That is why herd immunity is such a big deal. (People who claim herd immunity isn’t important are wrong.) Look at the measles outbreak in 1989-1991: “Many outbreaks were centered in areas where immunization levels were low. In fact, the CDC reported, “Surveys in areas experiencing outbreaks among preschool-aged children indicated that as few as 50% of children had been vaccinated against measles by their second birthday, and that black and Hispanic children were less likely to be age-appropriately vaccinated than were white children” (CDC, Measles, Pink Book). Measles is not “just a rash”. It is a rash that can kill you or your child in spite of all that modern technology can do: “Over the period 1989-1991, measles outbreaks sickened a reported 55,622 Americans, killing 123. Of all of the cities that suffered from the outbreaks, Philadelphia was hit hardest: 1,500 children fell ill and 9, most of whom had not been vaccinated, died.” Death from vaccines are “1-2 per million, mostly in people with weakened immune systems”.

Clearly, the odds are better if you vaccinate.

The anti-vaccination groups are also saying that the “Measles Mary” form the Walt Disney outbreak was someone who had been vaccinated. This is false. No one knows who he or she actually is and the DNA from the virus is linked to the Middle East. “We don’t know exactly how this outbreak started but we do think it was likely a person infected with measles overseas,” Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters. “We assume that someone got infected with measles overseas, visited Disneyland park, and spread the disease to others.” … Genetic tests of the virus affecting Americans are similar to strains seen in Indonesia, Qatar, Azerbaijan and Dubai.”

For more information please visit the CDC webpage on vaccination myths.

I doubt this information will spur anyone who is dead set against vaccines to now vaccinate, but the inaccurate information was driving me nuts and I had to address it.

3 thoughts on “The vaccination debate


  1. Kyra, great job as always. We take my grandson for his first shots today, so this article was very timely for me. You have a great writing style , lucid, well-organized, and intelligent. A plethora of kudos unto thee.


    1. Well I had this journalism teacher named Mr. Willis who made me do due diligence in my research … 🙂

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