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The first of the obligatory vaccine posts. August 9, 2008

Posted by speakingaut in medical.
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A post I read on another blog induced me to write this. I may not like the person who wrote the original post, and he and I rarely see eye-to-eye, but this particular post is one I agree with 100%, so I’m going to give my take on it.

Every essay needs a thesis statement (at least, that’s what I learned in 6th grade English), and so mine is this. Even if you don’t read the rest of the post, read this:

Vaccinate your children.

There are very few valid reasons not to do so. Let’s go through what counts as valid and what’s just quackery.

Valid reasons not to vaccinate:

– Legitimate medical reasons. I personally react badly to the hepatitis B vaccine (it’s seizuriffic!) so I never got my third hep-B shot. There are people with allergies, or in whom certain vaccines can trigger Guillain-Barré syndrome. There’s no point in any medical treatment if the treatment causes more pain than it relieves.

– Religion. I’m not religious myself, but I understand and appreciate the role it plays in the lives of many people. The number of adherents to religions that forbid vaccination is small enough that I see no reason to force these parents to vaccinate. However, I am vehemently opposed to parents who lie about their religion just to avoid vaccinating their children. If the government can require affidavits from church leaders for people to secure conscientious objector status, it can verify the religious status of parents who cite religion as a reason not to vaccinate. That it doesn’t is a gross oversight. (I might take flak for this, but it’s what I believe.)

Invalid reasons not to vaccinate:

– Autism, and believing vaccines cause it. Seriously. The “link” between thimerosal and autism has been debunked many times.

This isn’t to say that putting mercury in vaccines is a good thing; it simply means that immunity to these diseases is worth exposure to trace amounts of thimerosal, at least until such time as vaccines can be made without it.

Incidentally, the half-life of ethylmercury in the human body is roughly one-tenth of the half-life of methylmercury, which is the toxin on which most studies on the toxicity of mercury have been done.

Seriously, though. Weighing the risks and benefits:
Measles is ugly, painful and deadly. It leaves the body wide open to pneumonia and other infections. Leaving aside these secondary infections, measles has killed 200 million people in the last 150 years. People still die of it in the United States, at that. All it takes is one carrier to bring it into a group of non-immune people, and boom.
Diphtheria is even more brutal. It attacks the nervous system directly, and the toxins it creates induce cardiomyopathy and peripheral neuropathy. In 10 percent of diphtheria cases, the throat swells, often to the point where the patient can no longer breathe. Cutaneous diphtheria does this, which I should hope doesn’t need an explanation as to why it’s bad. And it still kills people. Rates of vaccination are much lower in some countries than in others, and once again, all it takes is one traveller who thinks it’s just a cold.
Pertussis: It’s the only vaccine-preventable disease that is killing more people in the United States year by year, and it comes with one of the most terrifying sounds one can hear from a child. It causes brain damage, internal bleeding and convulsions, and leave the body open to secondary infections such as pneumonia.
Poliomyelitis: Eats the central nervous system. Literally. When it isn’t deadly — and even now there’s no cure — it can cause brain damage, paralysis, nerve damage, and more. When the Salk vaccine was released, there were very few people who refused it, despite its dangers, because polio is Just That Bad. And then there’s post-polio syndrome, which is beginning to manifest in adult survivors of the disease. I have immediate family members who have survived polio, and one in particular who is lucky to walk today. He suffered permanent nerve damage in his hands and legs, and is suffering chronic pain even fifty years after contracting it.

There are plenty more, but I’m going to leave it at these for now. They’re bad enough.

In short, if you don’t take reasonable measures to ensure the immunity of your children just because you’re afraid it will make them autistic (especially since it won’t), you’re saying that you would prefer having a dead child to an autistic one. You are saying that it’s okay for children to die horribly like this just as long as they’re neurotypical.

So think long and hard about that, and then go apologize to your children if you haven’t vaccinated them.

(And don’t get me started on Hannah Poling. That was mitochondrial disease.)

-“Big Pharma” conspiracy theories. Look: it’s not in the best interests of pharmaceutical companies to eradicate disease. If nobody got sick, they’d be out of a job. And yet, here they are, working to ensure that these diseases go the way of smallpox. (Does anyone here miss smallpox? Raise your hand if you do. Come on, don’t be shy. Bueller? Bueller? Anyone? … I thought so.) I’m glad to mistrust pharmaceutical companies any other time, but not for this.

-“I’m afraid the HPV vaccine will turn all our girls into little tramps!” — Yeah, in the same way that the Hepatitis B vaccine turns children into IV drug users.

-“Everybody else in her class has been vaccinated, so I really don’t need to.” — Tell that to the kids whose stories I’ve linked above. The daughter of Colorado’s last governor contracted pertussis because of this. Herd immunity only works if enough people in the world are actually immune. Unless she goes to school in a hermetically sealed biosphere, suck it up and do it.

There’s probably more that I’m forgetting, on both sides. Feel free to list them in the comments.