Friday, February 3, 2012
What's The Harm In Avoiding Vaccines?
It doesn't seem to matter that there is never any conclusive proof to link vaccines to these disorders because most antivaxers believe personal observation by parents or family members or random bloggers is superior to peer-reviewed science performed by trained physicians, clinicians, researchers, and scientists.
Essentially the antivaxers would have us believe that the risk of giving a child a vaccination is far, far greater than the risk of going without said vaccination. This belief essentially ignores all common sense and requires a selective rewrite of history in order for us to ignore the massive outbreaks of polio or smallpox previous generations had to deal with. We also need to ignore the thousands of children who used to suffer from various diseases such as the measles, pertussis, mumps, rubella and several other preventable diseases along with those who were permanently injured or even those who died after contacting one of these diseases.
Nevertheless antivaxers seem convinced vaccines are dangerous and there is no justification for using them... ever. In fact we often hear antivaxers suggest that the diseases and viruses that vaccines protect against aren't really a problem at all. We even see stories from antivaxers where they have bragged about having "pox parties" where they expose their children to others who have chicken pox, and in extreme cases there have even been published reports of parents ordering lollipops from infected children which they then give to their own kids in the hopes they will actually contract chicken pox.
I wish I could make this stuff up, but sadly this is the reality. Meanwhile, even though we have mountains of evidence and research showing the overwhelming effectiveness of vaccines, and even though we no longer need to worry about diseases such as smallpox or polio specifically because they were eradicated via vaccination programs, we still do not have so much as a single peer-reviewed study which has been able to link vaccines with a neurological disorder such as autism. Not a single study.
In fact, we know thousands upon thousands of children needlessly suffer from vaccine-preventable diseases each and every year. In some cases this may be because a child has an existing medical condition which prevents them from receiving a vaccine. In some cases it could be due to to a vaccine not being effective in that child (no vaccine is 100% effective in every human just as no medication is effective in every human). However in our current environment, most children who suffer from vaccine-preventable disease seem to be unvaccinated (due to their parents' unwarranted fears and actions based upon emotion rather than scientific fact), or they contract the disease from an unvaccinated child.
In effect, antivaxers promote the idea that vaccines are dangerous not because of what does happen or because of what has happened, but because they fear what might happen. They ignore the millions of lives saved by vaccines and the millions more who didn't suffer with a preventable disease all due to their illogical belief that the rare condition that they "maybe sort of think might have something to do with vaccines" should take precedence over the numerous diseases we know are prevented by those very same vaccines.
I dare ask - are these people capable of performing basic arithmetic operations? Even if we were to believe that vaccines might result in autism... even if we ignore accepted science and just assume that the majority of all cases of autism are due to vaccines, have they ever compared the risk of contracting a vaccine-preventable disease to the risk of being diagnosed with autism? Have they also considered that in many cases those who contract vaccine-preventable diseases can suffer lasting effects which could include permanent disability or even death?
Keep in mind we are ignoring accepted science here, so we need to ignore the fact that there is no evidence linking vaccines and autism and we need to ignore the fact that even the very strong anti-vaccine Generation Rescue non-scientific and heavily biased phone survey found there is not a statistically significant difference in the rate of autism between unvaccinated children and vaccinated children. Even with all of this ignored, what is the logic behind the belief that the risk of autism somehow trumps the risk of death?
Surely critical thinking skills or common sense have no place in this discussion. After all, what possibly could be the harm from NOT vaccinating a child? Well if you have ever wondered what the answer to that question might be, you may find this website interesting: What's The Harm.
Of course it should be noted this website does not serve as a comprehensive list by any means. The website is not updated on a regular basis and it is only a few select examples of the harm that anti-vaccine views have created, but it does serve as a reminder of why vaccines are so important.
You know what else is important? The number 57,628. That is how many cases of polio were reported in 1952. Of those cases, 3,145 people died and 21,269 were left with varying degrees of paralysis. All of this occurred in one single year prior to the development of the polio vaccine.
Of course if you are a vaccine conspiracy theorist like Lowell Hubbs, you tend to believe polio just magically disappeared from the planet and that it had nothing to do with vaccines. In fact Hubbs still believes sugar consumption is to blame for polio, so he isn't exactly an expert on the subject. But I digress...
Another important number is 400,000. That is how many Europeans died annually from smallpox towards the end of the 18th century. It is also estimated that as many as 10% of all children born in Sweden in the 17th century died from smallpox, and the estimates for Russia were one out of every seven children would die from the disease.
1813. That is the year the US Congress passed a law (aptly named the Vaccine Act of 1813) to ensure the safe and legitimate smallpox vaccine would be available to the public. By the late 1800s, smallpox was effectively eliminated within the US due to the vaccine.
50,000,000. That is the estimated number of cases of smallpox that occurred worldwide as recently as the early 1950s. Look at that number again.... fifty million cases!
So how about the number 25. That seems to be a rather important number as well, because it is the percentage of people who died from smallpox after being infected. Yes that is 25% or put another way one out of every four people who contracted smallpox would die from the disease. In the early 1950s, this would be approximately 12,500,000 dead humans each year all because of one preventable disease. That is greater than the populations of New York City and Los Angeles combined, and it was happening year after year.
Yet we no longer need to fear smallpox because of one thing... a vaccine. Perhaps the most significant vaccine ever developed by man, and one which has saved millions upon millions of lives, which leads us to yet another important number...
1979. That is the year that smallpox was certified as being eradicated from our planet. There have been no cases reported since, and the disease is no longer a threat. Again, this is all due to the availability of a vaccine.
I could obviously go on with numerous other vaccines and explain how many lives have been saved or how much suffering has been prevented, but the point here is that when a parent believes they are doing their child a favor by not vaccinating them from numerous preventable diseases, they are quite simply ignoring history. They are gambling with their child's life, and they are ignoring science, logic, and reason.
Thus even if we ignore the lack of science linking vaccines and autism and even if we give in to emotional pleas and pretend that parents who decide against vaccination are just doing what they feel is best for their children, what does this leave us with? We know autism isn't a fatal disease so what this tells us is that parents would rather put their children at risk of contracting a fatal disease than even allow the slightest risk that they may suffer with a neurological disorder... surely that can't be right can it?
Are these antivaxer parents really that disconnected from reality? Are they really unable to pick up a history book and take five minutes to learn about how preventable diseases like polio, smallpox, rubella, measles, varicella, and many many more have led to so many deaths? Are they just ignorant of history and the science behind vaccines?
I really can't say why some parents decide against vaccines, but when I look at the facts it really comes down to either blatant ignorance, laziness in not bothering to do the research or examine history, or possibly the worst excuse of all... selfishness. As sad as it may seem, there are a certain number of parents out there that have such a fear against having to raise a developmentally disabled child, that they would rather avoid life saving vaccines in the off chance they might find themselves with a "broken" child.
Keep this in mind the next time some antivaxer brags about how they refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated - because aside from the fact they are scientifically and historically illiterate, instead of protecting their children, they are effectively telling them they would rather see them dead than allow them to be diagnosed with autism.
Disgusting? You bet.