Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Vaccine Insanity

Give Me a Shot of That

When I was four years old I had the chickenpox and, according to my parents, the flu at the same time. I remember feeling awful, and I still have a few pox marks to remind me. 

When I was in the first grade I had what we called "the two weeks" measles. I spent most of two weeks in my dark room with only a night light. Blankets were over the windows, because it was thought that exposure to bright light while having the measles could damage the eyes. The only thing good about the experience was that, as the illness neared the end of its course, my dad brought me a baseball glove and bat.

When I was in second grade, the Salk polio vaccine became available for all children. Class by class we went to the school office (this was a small Christian school), and got our shots. In addition to the stress of getting the shot, there was the pressure to take
it like a man and not to embarrass oneself. Twice during the school year we got the shot, and we came back to school once during the summer to get the third.  I remember two things pre-vaccine: (1) Parents lived in fear, especially through the summer months, that their kids might contract polio and so watched for symptoms. (2) There were pictures on television and in magazines of children in leg braces to help them walk and others in iron lungs to help them breathe.

I think it was in the fifth grade I noticed swelling along my jaw during school. That night at supper (for some reason I recall we had coleslaw) my parents confirmed that I had the mumps. One of the concerns that parents had for their sons in those days was that the mumps would cause sterility. (Not to worry, we had five sons.)

Somewhere along the way, I got the "three day measles" (rubella). It didn't make me very sick, but I had to be kept away from pregnant women, because, if she lacked immunity (hadn't had rubella as child) and contracted the disease, it could harm her baby.

I did not get the smallpox vaccination till the summer before I went off to Belhaven College. I got it because the college required it. The reason I and many of my contemporaries had not got it earlier was because smallpox had been eradicated in the United States because of the near universal vaccination of previous generations of Americans. 

I have had the flu quite a few times. The most vivid memory I have of it comes from a time when our family of seven was living in two bedroom house in a small town in Mississippi, and my wife and I got it at the same time. We had arranged for a carpenter to come and build a closet in the "master bedroom" to house the washer and dryer. Our bedroom not being available we pulled out the bed in the sleeper sofa, and lay there during the day. The people in the church were very kind and checked on us and brought us food, but whenever someone came to the door, we would say to each other, "Whose turn is it to get up?" Such was the extremity of the malaise. 

I tell these stories, not because they are unique, but because they are the common experience of people of my generation. We got fewer childhood illnesses than our parents, but we still got a lot of them.

I was spared whopping cough (pertussis) and polio. Why? Vaccination. My kids were spared all but the flu and chickenpox. Why? Vaccination. Their kids might be spared them all, except the flu, and even it depending on how accurately the scientists predict which strains of flu are most likely each season. Why?Vaccination.

I like vaccines a whole lot more than I like the diseases they prevent. When I have gone on mission trips, I have got whatever vaccines were recommended for the countries I visited.  When I hit 65 I got the pneumonia shot. When I went to the doctor last, I got the flu shot and some kind of booster. If its recommended, I get it. I
only wish there were cancer and heart disease vaccines. Any disease I can avoid through vaccination I intend to avoid.

Which makes me wonder, why the intensity of the anti-vaccine movement? A few guesses:

1. Because of the success of the vaccines, parents now do not have the experiences of childhood illnesses older people have had. Hence less appreciation of the risks of the diseases, less understanding of the necessity of the vaccines (until like smallpox they are no longer needed because they are wiped out worldwide), and the luxury of objecting.

2. Some have an undue suspicion of science in general and medical science in particular. They do not appreciate how much practical science has improved our lives or how much much medical science has increased the length and quality of our lives. Medical science can get things wrong, but it gets a lot right. Since the discovery of penicillin and the development of other antibiotics a great many lives have been saved, but doctors no longer routinely prescribe them because they have found that overuse has led to the development of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. Its possible for science to proceed on mistaken assumptions, and jump to wrong conclusions, and otherwise get it wrong, but good science is humble, honest, and objective. Most medicine today is evidence based. The questions for doctors are: (a) What works? (b) What works best most often? (c) What poses the fewest risks?

3. There are those who focus on the risks they believe are posed by the vaccines. It wasn't long ago that candidate Obama spoke about vaccines and the risk of autism. Though some continue to assert this risk, every study done so far has indicated there is no link between vaccination and autism. Others point to the risks of adverse reactions. Adverse reactions are rare, and serious ones are extremely rare. Yes, there is risk, but there is no such thing as living a risk free life. We take calculated risks all the time not just for ourselves but for our kids. Let him him run around the yard, and he might fall and break his arm. Give her peanut butter, and she might go into anaphylactic shock. The risks associated with the vaccines are far less likely and severe than the risks if one contracts the illnesses they prevent. 

4. Others are wrongly confident in what is "natural." They do not understand that nature is out to kill you and to make your life more difficult until it does. It is particularly baffling that Christians who know the history, effects, and doctrine of the fall, are so pro-natural. A good bit of our energy as humans has to be devoted to beating back the thorns and thistles and delaying returning to the dust. Polio, whopping cough, measles, mumps, influenza, chickenpox are natural. Vaccines are "unnatural." Thank God they are.

I'll make some sacrifices. Send me the high fructose corn syrup, especially if it has been made into a pecan pie. I'll take the genetically- modified, pesticide-spayed, fertilzed grains and vegetables. I'll eat the corn fed beef and let you have the grass fed. But get those kids vaccinated. It will be good for them - and the rest of us, too.

1 comment:

Rachel Erickson said...

AMEN! Vaccines are the biggest, best, least-dangerous lifesaver modern medicine has developed. I'm extremely hopeful that polio will join smallpox and rinderpest in being eradicated before I die.
Vaccines save lives, reduce suffering, and prevent permanent injury. "Opting out" for non-medical reasons is selfish and affects other people, too.