In Answer to the Anti-Vaxxers’ Response to “The Natural Consequences of Unvaccinated Children”
Wow! My measles essay “The Natural Consequences of Unvaccinated Children” really struck a nerve among anti-vaxxers. They raised enough questions and counterarguments that it will take more than 1,200 words to answer all of them. But with the help of the Internet, I will cover some basic research that everyone should know. First of all, thank you to all who read my essay and passed it on. More thanks to those who commented. But not everyone read it carefully or got the point. Exhibit A is that I never said vaccines are 100% safe, as Robert Thew mentions in the essay’s comment section. Nothing is 100% safe. You can suffer severe health problems or even die from drinking too much water. I also clearly stated that I want parents to have the freedom to choose NOT to vaccinate their children (par. 4, par. 9). My thesis is that making that choice endangers innocent people and therefore should have consequences.
I challenge the readers who disagree with me to present their evidence. Send me the links in your comments. If you can provide me with accurate, verified information that anything I wrote was incorrect, I will happily acknowledge it. I love learning new things. I especially love finding out that something I thought was true isn’t. But, I’m pretty good at detecting bogus evidence. An example is Marti’s claim that “The fact is, that no one in the U.S. has died from measles in the last 20 years. yet a suspected 100 measles vaccine related deaths have been reported.” As a point of fact, that claim originated at the web site Health Impact News. Like every front for purveyors of nonsense, this site is very official looking and sounding. But the information is false. It was even debunked at Snopes.com. I agree that four deaths in four years is not many, but it is 400% more than ZERO. And investigations of the 108 cases of “suspected deaths” found NO connection between the inoculation and the deaths. Words like “probably” and “suspected” were deceptively applied, here. Vaccines probably saved lives? Does anyone believe they can make a serious argument about whether vaccines have prevented millions of deaths? Any child’s “vaccine related injury” is unfortunate. But besides death, there are other, more common, side effects from measles, such as brain damage, deafness, and birth defects.
Another critic of my article said vaccines are unsafe. What’s your evidence? Every major private and public health organization says they are safe. Every credible peer reviewed study says they are safe. Nearly every doctors’ organization says they are safe. The misinformation surrounding all vaccinations comes from a combination of confirmation bias and improper research. Google users in particular depend on secondary and tertiary websites. Good research depends on going to primary sources. Unfortunately, primary sources are often filled with science jargon and legalese that make them hard to understand. The CDC pages and ScienceDirect website are good examples. Fortunately, independent sources such as Snopes and Factcheck.org can assist knowledge seekers. If you do the math, the odds of debilitating or fatal reactions to vaccines are miniscule compared to the risks of the diseases they prevent. Don’t take my word for it. Ask your doctor. Almost all of them will advise you to vaccinate. They have a vested interest in not letting you or your child die.
Heather claimed that I ignored history and then cited, correctly, that there were problems with some of the early polio vaccines. But Heather, my article was not about all vaccines, only measles. I dated a girl in high school who lost her leg due to that batch of vaccine you referred to. And, I pointed out in paragraph 5 that vaccinations have been crudely (implying dangerously) done in the past. My question to you is: do you eat fresh produce from a store? Are you aware that in the last ten years, scores of people, including babies, have died from eating fresh produce such as organic spinach and cantaloupes? Just because something was dangerous in the past doesn’t mean it still is. Today’s vaccines have been and continue to be studied by people whose job it is to protect us. It’s funny how some of the same people who castigate the CDC and FDA turn around and trust the same agencies to protect them from foodborne illness. Unless you grow your own food, you have to trust the government. When the government fails in that trust, we expect accountability. That’s why we have ballot boxes.
Recent research shows that most anti-vaxxers are mothers. And indeed, as of this writing, most of those commenting in the area below my essay and through Facebook (posted February 5th) are women. As someone who has been a parent all of my life, I understand the fear, concern, and passion of these mothers who responded to my article. I raised two boys. I (not mom) stayed up with them all night when they had reactions to their DPT shots. My wife and I were scared and second guessed ourselves. I get it. And those who read Exhibit A regularly know about my own mother. She firm, forceful, and highly protective of her children when necessary. She saw the results of polio, whooping cough, and smallpox first hand. She wasn’t good at math, but she trusted her doctors and understood that the odds were heavily in our favor. But life does not give any guarantees. Besides the danger to themselves, unvaccinated children present a danger to people who can’t get vaccinated, or for whom the vaccine wasn’t effective (about 5%). These children are also living Petri dishes in which diseases can mutate into new forms. That’s what pro-vaxxers fear.
I also found it interesting that Anonymous thought all babies and pregnant women should stay at home (what about women who don’t know they are pregnant?) but then (perhaps a different Anonymous?) cited the Constitution and railed against government making choices for parents. In a free society, should people be forced to stay indoors to protect themselves from others? As I noted earlier, I support parents’ right to choose no vaccination. But I will dispute that parents always know what’s best for their child. What about the parents who lathered their baby’s hair with mayonnaise and covered her head with a bread bag thus smothering her because they “heard” that would get rid of head lice? Or how about the parents who thought that a watermelon-only diet is healthy? Or that the proper treatment for diabetes is prayer only? Do you want to argue that government should not protect vulnerable children from parents who are just wrong about proper child care? I think it is a fundamental job of government to protect those who can’t protect themselves.
My point was and is that there are natural consequences for all choices. Let me try another metaphor. Suppose you were caught driving 100 mph in a 30 mph zone. Suppose you ignored stop signs, traffic signs, and one way only signs. Would you argue in court that because you pay taxes, you have the right to endanger others? That there is a conspiracy between government officials and the auto industry to prevent you from exercising your right to free travel? That you are smarter than the people who make traffic safety their career?
A former student of mine was sitting at a traffic light with her baby strapped in a government-mandated safety seat in the back. A dump truck lost its brakes, sped down the off ramp, hurtled through the air, and killed her. The baby was unharmed, thank goodness. But she is now an orphan because the truck’s owner did not perform government-mandated safety inspections and maintenance. Should we not hold him accountable because he is a small business owner who pays taxes and was just trying to save money?
Every state has laws against unvaccinated children in schools. But uneducated politicians have allowed a small minority of people to make it easy for anyone to opt out. I think that is ridiculous. The reason sheep stay in a herd is that it is safer. Personally, I’d rather be a live “sheeple” than a dead wolf. If you do not want to follow public safety guidelines, that’s fine. It’s your right as an American. But stop asking for the benefits of being in the herd (such as public schools) if you don’t choose to follow public health guidelines. It reminds me of people who build houses right on the beach or put up mobile homes in Tornado Alley. Then when the easily predicted natural disaster occurs, they want the rest of us to bail them out. Vaccines are safe and necessary for public safety. If you choose to opt out, then you should suffer the consequences. Like smallpox, we can eradicate measles. This disease killed over 150,000 people last year and crippled hundreds of thousands more. The fact that they were not white middle-class Americans shouldn’t matter. We can’t save the world, but we can end some of its misery. All it takes is for everyone who can be vaccinated to do so. It really is that simple. If you have facts to the contrary, prove me wrong. I welcome them.