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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Scary Wagers

The recent Hib break out has everyone all up in arms. Mainly because out of the five cases there was one death. And the death was not a child too young to be vaccinated, but a child whose parents deliberately did not vaccinate. It's a kind of Holy War, these vaccine arguments because those who believe in the shots firmly believe they are saving their kids. But those who have reasons against it believe just as firmly that they are doing the same thing.

Parents chose to not vaccinate their children for many reasons. Religion is obviously on the list. Especially religions like Christian Scientists*. But religion aside, there are still a ton of parents who are opposed. Many parents fear the toxins used as preservatives in the vaccines, some of which have been loosely linked to the development of diseases such as autism, Multiple Sclerosis and other genetic, autoimmune or neurological conditions which have increased in prevalence since the introduction of so many new vaccines.

Or else they fear that the manner in which vaccines are prepared (generally in a blood broth from an animal like a pig or a horse or a monkey) is not safe. People have even questioned if this is the cause of some cancers. Not far fetched at all. In fact, the polio vaccine in the 1950s was largely contaminated with the cancer virus SV40. The FDA does not regulate the purity of the bio-materials vaccines are grown in. That is something left up to the drug manufacturers. That blood might not be clean. But it might be! But maybe not!

The reasons to vaccinate your children are largely to protect them from horrible and untimely deaths from preventable illnesses. In addition, vaccinating your own child helps to build up herd immunity. The concept of herd immunity is simple: if almost everyone in a community is immune to a disease, the disease will not infiltrate and harm those who are not immune (let's say, the 1% religious folks, and fetuses and infants too young to get the vaccines). Therefore some children of anti-vaccine parents enjoy protection just by living as a minority among those who have received a vaccine.
It is also true however that in the case of vaccines which involve the injection of a live attenuated virus - MMR and also the TB vaccine), that newly vaccinated members of the "herd," can actually pass the disease along to the unprotected in the days before the virus is killed off. The unprotected will either A) get very sick and possibly die or B) develop a passive immunity that is undetected because their immune system took care of the job on its own.

The benefits of having most of the population vaccinated are clear, however the risks seem great. Although I chided my friend Ayla for days about not vaccinating my godson, just one look at the site Think Twice shut me up for a while. Although no nationally recognized studies link Autism to the MMR vaccine, story after story of families turned upside down after a child receives one of these shots become hard to ignore. One of the greatest and most published case for a link between MMR and autism to this day is of course Hannah Poling.

The official stance of the Center for Disease Control, the FDA, and the American Academy of Pediatrics is that the MMR vaccine does not cause autism. They have studies that you can download and read online. The Institute of Medicine published this safety review. The CDC is quite sure that the Hep B vac doesn't cause MS, and would like you to be sure as well.

I feel like the number of immunizations children receive today is too high. I do not think babies in developed countries need Hep B vaccines, for example, unless the mother has Hep.
However, I also think that vaccination technology has come a long way, and several vaccines are absolutely necessary. But why stop where we are? I demand more regulation instated for vaccine preparation. Why isn't anyone testing the carcinogenic potential of sheep agar? Why isn't anyone searching for an alternative to thimerosal??
I'm irrationally angered by the lack of consensus surrounding this issue. I like my medical issues to be resolved by hard facts. But the hard facts don't appease me here because the data is as fuzzy as an ethical dilemma, not scientific at all. It says, yes some children developed autism after this shot, but they were outliers and so we are not even entertaining the link. It says, although mercury poisoning is rare you are a bad mother if you vaccinate your child because you know you're doing him harm. It's better to count on herd immunity to protect him from a meningitis that may take his life than to knowingly give him what may become cancer.

It says you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

My heart goes out to the families effected by the Hib outbreak. Your choice to not immunize cost the life of a child. But I see how a choice the other way could have done the same.
* and Jehovah's Witnesses but only until the late 1940s when someone (I forget his name) made the decision that possibly receiving a bit of pig blood in a shot is not the same as drinking blood, and therefore not against Scripture. Just in time for Polio. Phew!

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