Thursday, September 26, 2013

Vaccinations: How Your Choices Affect Me

Online support groups are invaluable for CF families as they allow us to gain support and knowledge from other people going through the same experience no matter where they are on the planet. There are numerous CF groups on Facebook, most of them pretty similar and perhaps specialized to a certain geographical location or the like. But there are also numerous groups dedicated to the 'natural', alternative-medicine method of 'remedying' cystic fibrosis. These groups seem to grow more numerous by the day and the things I have read on them seem extremely concerning. I have many examples of very questionable decisions and actions perpetrated by parents of children with CF and adult CF patients themselves in the desperate and ill-informed search for a cure.

I had a run-in with a crowd of these people last week. Specifically, the topic was on vaccinations. The majority, it seemed, were against vaccinating their children. I heard the same tired old reasons: worries that vaccines cause autism, concerns over the long and scary-sounding list of ingredients in vaccines, no knowledge of how vaccines actually work and what they do in the body, mistrust of 'Big Pharma', and no real understanding of the diseases these vaccines are preventing or the lasting damage they can do.

I entered the conversation by presenting my facts in a logical and impersonal manner. One particularly insufferable individual, whom we will call Grant for the sake of clarity (and also, because that's his real name) latched onto my argument like a rabid dog and refused to let go. He managed to drag the conversation down into a slinging match, brought his friends along for the ride, and I don't think any of them ever did read what I was saying.

I eventually decided there is no use flogging a dead horse (or talk to someone whose only mode of discourse is to swear and not present any supporting evidence for their case) so I left the conversation. I was uplifted to later find messages of support in my inbox, people who told me they agreed with me and that Grant is unable to listen to anything aside from himself. That gave me a bit of hope, as well as the few messages of support left on the actual comment thread itself and the fact that in the real world, outside these alternative circles, my views are in the majority and supported by current medical science. Phew!

I want to present my argument for vaccination here, while I imagine a world in which I don't have to endlessly repeat myself. A girl can dream.

So, the main question here is the one that I am repeatedly asked by the anti-vaccine crowd, often multiple times within the same conversation. 
Why do I care if someone else's child is vaccinated or not?
Well, the answer is simple. Setting aside the fact that the benefits of vaccination have been repeatedly shown to outweigh the risks, and your child really does deserve a healthy start in life, the unfortunate thing is that vaccines are not 100% effective. If my child is fully vaccinated and they come into contact with measles, they still have a chance of contracting that disease. It's not a big chance if they have had the full immunization schedule, but it's still a possibility. However, if everyone in the community is vaccinated, something called the Herd Effect occurs. This basically means that the immunized community creates a bubble of protection against these vaccine-preventable diseases. If every person in the community is vaccinated, the effectiveness then reaches 100%. This Herd Effect has another very important purpose as well, and that is to protect the most vulnerable members of our society: those who cannot be vaccinated due to legitimate medical reasons or age. Tiny babies cannot be vaccinated against every disease. And there are many tragic reminders of this when tiny babies die from pertussis, a vaccine-preventable disease that is absolutely thriving in the community. Babies cannot have their first pertussis vaccine until they are two months old, and they finish up the full dose several months later. This is a very real danger: In my state, there has been one infant death per year from 2008-2011. Four babies dying needlessly, from preventable illness in the 21st Century. Just think about that for a minute.

Another question, or statement, that gets thrown around like crap in a cage of monkeys, is the whole autism-vaccines link. Except it's not a link. It has been thoroughly debunked. A liar named Andrew Wakefield (he was a doctor, but has since been stripped of his medical license) wrote a research paper in 1998 claiming that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine causes autism. However, no other researcher was able to reproduce his findings and it was later revealed that Wakefield stood to profit financially from this vaccine scare in the form of 'litigation based testing'. If you do not vaccinate your children because you are afraid of autism, then you have been conned and fallen for a hoax which has driven up the incidence of measles, leading to serious illnesses and fatalities. If you'd like to know more about this fraud, especially about the unnecessary and invasive testing he performed on autistic children, abuse of developmentally challenged children or the fact that he acted without ethical approval from an institutional review board, there are plenty of sources for you to peruse. Here are a few that popped up with a basic search: This one, highlighting the charges of misconduct, or read the story straight from the man who exposed him for the liar he is, journalist Brian Deer. 

But how about that list of scary sounding vaccine ingredients? Mercury? Formaldehyde? HUMAN FETUS?!
Seriously. I tried going through some ingredients with these people and explaining the various functions of each, but I had better success talking to the wall, so we'll have to go slowly on this one.
There has been an image floating around on the web for years now asking the viewer 'Do You Know What's in a Vaccine?' followed by a list of ingredients with horrible side effects listed. For example, Formaldehyde is defined as 'major component of embalming fluid, poisonous if ingested. Probable carcinogen...' and then a bit more about poison and cancer. Ok, well that sounds bad! And it's true, formaldehyde is used in embalming fluid and you definitely do not want to drink it. But what this poster fails to mention is that formaldehyde is naturally created in the body. The amount created in the body every day is 50-70 times higher than the upper limit of what that person could receive in a single dose.
Other scary-sounding ingredients, like the human fetus mentioned, are not truly in vaccines at all. Some viruses need to be grown in human cell culture. They don't grow as well in animal or egg cells. There are two cell lines used for vaccines that originated from two fetuses in the 1960s. These fetuses were aborted for medical reasons and not to create vaccines. Cells from the fetuses were taken to create cell cultures. The cell cultures live indefinitely, so no new fetuses are required. The viruses are grown in this cell culture and then taken out of the culture to be put into the vaccine. It should also be noted that the use of vaccines to prevent diseases such as rubella also save unborn babies and prevent abortions because it means that babies will not be born with congenital rubella, a condition which causes deformities and disabilities.

Ok, last one on the list today is the claim that these unvaccinated children will remain healthy and will not catch vaccine-preventable diseases because of increased sanitation, and if they do happen to catch it they will fight it off easily because the family eats such a natural, raw/vegan/paleo/gluten-free/dairy-free/whatever diet. And in addition to that, the kids get megadoses of Vitamin C and colloidal silver! (Excuse me while I facepalm. And I think I have to directly address the non-vaccinating parents for this one).
Sorry, but this is called sticking your head in the sand.
These diseases are still prevalent in our society today. The fact that we enjoy modern conveniences such as running water and usually don't have raw sewage on the sidewalk doesn't mean these deadly diseases packed up and left. There are still cases of these diseases in contemporary society. There is still the chance for anyone to come into contact with a vaccine-preventable disease. Maybe we will be ok, your raw/vegan/whatever children will fight it off with a little fever and a rash and well maybe just one cracked rib from the coughing, but will the people they come into contact with be so lucky? Will the newborn sibling of your child's classmate be so lucky? Will the pregnant lady in the doctor's waiting room be ok? What about that elderly gentleman at the supermarket? Or how about the completely healthy, robust child who still succumbs to death from chicken pox. It happens. You don't think about this, because you don't know these people. You don't read their stories. You google 'vaccine dangers' and 'alternatives to vaccination' and are lead to sites such as NaturalNews, which can only be described as a conspiracy theory site. You listen to what you want to listen to and you ignore the rest. People who push vaccines are sheep who follow the crowd. Not you! You're a trailblazer! You aren't going to listen to 'The Man!' You're also a public nuisance and as dangerous as Typhoid Mary. What's worse, is that you actively encourage other parents to follow suit and not vaccinate their kids either. You have been duped, mislead, and outright lied to. The benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks, not just for your own family, but for the entire community. 

Who am I to say all this? I am certainly not a doctor or a scientist or a nurse. I am nobody. But I believe I have the ability to distinguish a reliable source from a biased one, and I have been around this argument long enough to have considered both sides and carefully weighed them up. I have carefully thought about who has the most to lose from the anti-vaccination fad, and who has the most to gain. I have taken into consideration the current medical advice on the topic, as well as the charges brought against the person leading the anti-vaccination movement. Unlike the anti-vaccination crowd, I recognize that I do not know more than the entire medical community combined, and I don't believe in conspiracy theories. I understand that there are many people who are far more knowledgeable on this topic than I am, and I have sought out their advice.

I have seen the tactics these anti-vaccination websites use. They twist studies, by reporting something completely opposite to what the study actually found, falsify details and facts, focus extensively on the scary and unknown, do not present a balanced argument, do not acknowledge the work of vaccines in saving countless lives from deadly diseases, and manipulate a parent's fears for their own gain. These sites prey on the ignorance of parents and not only send our community backwards in health, but contribute to the serious illness and fatalities caused by vaccine-preventable disease. I find this deplorable.

That is why I feel so strongly on vaccination. Your choices absolutely do affect me and my family, as well as the wider community. We need to be in this together and seek understanding. Wouldn't it be great to actually rid the world of these diseases? It's a goal worth working towards.

6 comments:

  1. Very eloquently written! I couldn't agree more! Hearing the mom's at my son's new preschool sharing their tips to get around the mandatory school vaccinations by lying about their religious beliefs infuriated me (my son has CF too). Wish this was mandatory reading ;)

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    1. Thank you so much :) And can I say that as my oldest son is starting his first year of school next year, your experience is one of my biggest concerns about the whole thing. I'm really hoping that we are lucky and don't have any non-vaccinating families...guess we'll find out in a few months. Hope your son is keeping healthy and thanks again for your support!

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  2. Glad you wrote this! That same man left a snotty, know-it-all comment on my blog and I deleted it. When he asked why ("I want to share how I eradicated somethingsomething with food somethingsomething." I said "Well now that you're polite, I'd be happy to read." And he said sorry.). And you know, I'll take my chances with tiny amounts of preservatives, not with wretched diseases like they do. I appreciate the research you've done and linked to; thank you; this is a saver!

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    1. Thank you, Allison! I do worry about that particular man. He seems very popular in the 'natural CF treatment' community, but the way he hands out advice and acts (and is treated) like a medical guru really worries me. I've seen him hand out all kinds of questionable information and people don't discuss these choices with their CF clinics. If he says it's good, then it must be, right?! He's going to really hurt someone one day. All I can do is sit here and worry. And of course, he lays out the abuse if you don't agree with him!

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  3. Hey Lauren, thanks again for this. I just pulled it up for reference in another thread and was so glad to draw from your logic and research.

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    1. Thanks Allison! I'm glad it was helpful for you!

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