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Wide White: To vaccinate or not?

Friday, January 07, 2011

To vaccinate or not?

Our family was interviewed by WCCO yesterday on the connection (or lack thereof) between vaccines and autism. Our kids were cute, Jamie talked, and I spit. Well, we both answered each question that was asked, but she clearly had the more intelligent, camera-worthy responses since none of mine made the air!

I didn't really intend to get wrapped up in this debate. I suppose most people really don't. Jason DeRusha, a WCCO report, anchor, and prolific tweeter, posted to his Twitter account,
Two casting calls: 1) Anyone buy a big screen TV in the last 6 months? 2) Anyone avoid getting shots because of autism fears? Message me!
I definitely didn't fit the first category and I didn't exactly fit the second either, but I did respond,
@DeRushaJ We used to avoid shots. Eventually realized the lack of shots/autism correlation and don't avoid them anymore.
Long story short, they decided they wanted to interview us, picked me up from work, headed to our house and interviewed us.

So that's how we got our 2 minutes of Twin Cities fame.

But what about the issue at hand?

I realize the concerns of the anti-vaccine crowd. I could go through them point-counterpoint style, but I won't. I'm not interested in tearing the anti-vaccine crowd apart. If you don't want to vaccinate your kid, that's up to you. You are impacting the rest of the population by making that decision, and that matters, but still, it's not anyone else's job to force you to agree to vaccinate.

I want to do for my child what I would want done for myself. I'm glad I'm vaccinated. Therefore, I want the same for my child.

Of course, my position has been shaped on research and discussions with doctors, nurses, and midwives we've had over the last few years.

Here's some of the hard evidence. The now-debunked British study that supposedly proved a link between autism and vaccines was published in February 1998. The Associated Press notes that since that study,
Immunization rates in Britain dropped from 92 percent to 73 percent, and were as low as 50 percent in some parts of London. The effect was not nearly as dramatic in the United States, but researchers have estimated that as many as 125,000 U.S. children born in the late 1990s did not get the MMR vaccine because of the Wakefield splash.
CNN reports the effect of this drop,
The now-discredited paper panicked many parents and led to a sharp drop in the number of children getting the vaccine that prevents measles, mumps and rubella. Vaccination rates dropped sharply in Britain after its publication, falling as low as 80% by 2004. Measles cases have gone up sharply in the ensuing years.

In the United States, more cases of measles were reported in 2008 than in any other year since 1997, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 90% of those infected had not been vaccinated or their vaccination status was unknown, the CDC reported.
I don't think it can be disputed that there's a direct correlation between an increase in measles and a decrease in the MMR vaccine that protects against it.

There's also concern that the rise in autism rates over the last 30 years corresponds with the increase in vaccines that children receive. Personally, I don't see this as being any more of a correlation than the increase in Big Macs consumed by toddlers, but I'm not a scientist and could be way off base. All I'm trying to say is I think vaccines are unjustly targeted.

I also wonder if we simply are diagnosing cases as autism that were previously undiagnosed. People speak of the "autism spectrum," and there are autistic people who are very high-functioning who may have simply not been diagnosed as autistic until more recently. Of course, this is really just speculation, just as a potential correlation between vaccines and autism is speculation in the first place, so take it for that it's worth.

I'm surprised that anti-vaccine people seem to ignore the good that vaccines have done and continue to do. The number of diseases that have been reduced or eliminated since the greater population started getting vaccinated is alone a testament to their effectiveness. Even if one could prove negative effects from vaccines - and there's little doubt that there are occasional negative effects, though autism certainly hasn't been proven to be one of them - these are far outweighed by the positive effects.

Perhaps most important is that refusing to vaccinate impacts the entire population, not just our own children. Because infants shouldn't be given certain vaccines until they're older, we rely on the rest of the population to be vaccinated in order to prevent the spread of diseases to these children. A whooping cough outbreak in California killed 10 infants last year, all under the age of 3 months. These were preventable deaths. Of course, there's really no way to ensure that 100% of the population is current on their vaccines. Honestly, I have no idea if I'm up to date on my vaccine for whooping cough (it does wear off over time). But I don't want to intentionally avoid them either and being that I'm around babies every day, I want to be especially careful.

I know people who won't allow their babies around people who don't vaccinate. At first I didn't understand this mentality at all. But given the health risk that can pose, I can understand their concern.

This subject is difficult because our society is increasingly pushing us pills and an increasing number of people are rightly rejecting them. My infant doesn't need a children's Tylenol just because he's been fussy for 10 minutes. I don't need an aspirin just because my head hurt for a couple of minutes. These remedies should probably be saved for more significant circumstances and I suppose that's the same vein in which anti-vaccine people are operating.

But vaccines are critical. The unvaccinated are really only protected by the vaccinated against disease. As is happening with measles, the more people go unvaccinated, the more the diseases will spread. That's not a place I want to see us going.



Anonymous Kandi declared,

Joey, I think the majority of "anti-vaccine" people aren't opposed to the medicine in the vaccine itself, just the additional cocktail (specifically, thimerosal).

1/07/2011 7:09 AM  
Anonymous Bill Roehl declared,

And the "anti-vaccine" people now have no leg to stand on so what they were specifically against has been proven to be moot.

Now the problem will be convincing them that this isn't some conspiracy that is covering up the "real problem" instead of the conspiracy that created the "real problem" in the first place.

1/07/2011 8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous declared,

Give me the drugs!! And my children!!


1/07/2011 8:15 AM  
Blogger Joey declared,

Kandi, the use of thimerosal is certainly controversial, and it's being removed from children's vaccines as a precautionary measure so it's not an obstacle for anyone. Of course, sadly, many who believe vaccines are linked to autism have taken this move from the CDC as an indicator that they're admitting there's a direct correlation between thimerosal and autism, which isn't the case.

Again, I'm not trying to ignore potential risks in vaccines. Everything has a risk, just as eating genetically modified foods may present a risk. But I find the benefits to far outweigh the risks. Many others don't.

1/07/2011 11:24 AM  

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