Monday, March 31, 2014

Your choice, no herd immunity - (child) vaccinations and the anti vaxx lobby

I've been trying to be quiet about this since I know I'm biased since I'm a researcher. (Biased as in I read scientific papers and have more knowledge than the "average person".) I didn't know that I was biased when I started of course. I thought since "I read research papers and am of logical mind" that I was just "one in the regular crowd", I didn't have anything more to say than the public opinion.

Oh was I wrong.

I mentioned on twitter earlier this week that I was giving up my gym membership due to the facebook links from them, which have been a lot of anti-vaccinations for children. See, I really think that people should be able to make their informed decisions and make what's best for them and their family. I'm all for that, to a point. And especially when I get links to what they read in order to get their idea of proof... and I read a lot of the links to their "proof". And it is a lot of "opinions" and not facts.

If you are living in a remote area where no one else gets hurt by your decision, I'm actually ok with you making whatever decisions you want for you children and family. Go ahead, choice is free and you will never be part of this the major difficulty of infectious diseases (see below). You are alone in that area, hopefully your family are ok with your choices and if your young ones and grand parents get sick anyway, well - that's fine with you and yours.

However, and this is where I get upset and need to say things, act on it and all the above and more, when your decisions make it impossible for other people to feel safe and their children are at risk.... well, sorry but your right to "choose" goes into my "this is not an area to discuss, these are FACTS and what you may or may not believe, is not my main concern since it is the children and families who do not have this choice and will get hurt by your decision".

I'll make this statement simple for this blog post - I can provide links to everyone of these FACTS (please note, these are not my opinions, but FACTS that are founded in examples, experience and scientific logic) if you so want. The only reason I'm not doing it right now is because I'm tired and want to get this blog post out now. I will update it after that fact that I've published it and gotten it out of my system. There are some very obvious misconceptions that are floating around that make me furious.

First; most of our "common childhood diseases" can not be cured by antibiotics. Why? Because they are viral infections (like measles and the flu (influenza)). Viral infections can not be cured by antibiotics because antibiotics only work on bacterial diseases - and that is IF they are not resistant to the antibiotics (most of the prevalent strains of ear infections (Otitis Media) and unfortunately TB, more to come - be sure of that since we have over-prescribed antibiotics for livestock and people last couple of decades, more of that in another blog post).

Secondly: (I would often put this first myself but that's because I know antibiotics don't work against measles and flu): HERD IMMUNITY means that the likelihood of a child getting the more common childhood diseases is lowered since more than 86-90% of the children (reservoirs) are vaccinated against the disease means that is less likely to exist and spread. In short, lots of people having vaccinated immunity will protect the unvaccinated people since the likelihood of the disease rearing its ugly head is diminished. Case in point; every community where the amount of vaccinated people drops (like London or places in California or Texas or even New York for Measles) will make the disease rate go up and spread uncontrollably.

Third; this silly notion that "childhood diseases like measles is not dangerous and therefore it's better to have it and then get protected". Let's get this misnomer VERY clear. A lot of children in places where the vaccinations aren't working are not only getting sick, nor getting SERIOUS side effects from the disease - like blindness - but they die. Simple as that. They die.

Fourth; (if you're counting, I'm not since I'm a firm believer in thinking about others apart from myself) the herd immunity means that the people (let's get this straight since it's mainly about the children, it's about small innocent vulnerable children) who can't get vaccinated get protected by a lot of other people getting vaccinated since this means that the unvaccinated kids are getting a chance to not encounter the infectious agent (that's virus for the most part, non treatable by antibiotics) and therefore getting a chance of not getting sick and getting the side effects of getting sick (death, 'moribond' = blind, sterile (if we are talking about men and chicken pox for example, etc). Examples of children who can't get protected and are very vulnerable, children who are less than 2 years of age (their immune system is still trying to get to work) and children who are battling any other type of disease like cancer.

This whole idea of "I'm choosing not to get my child vaccinated" is making me furious beyond. I'm not the one to rant about these things, nor pontificate, but the last year has gotten me over the line. It's the several drops on the camel's back s to speak. And the links for my gym (not to mention the conversations with the people in general) has made it obvious to me - it's not about INFORMED CHOICE. It's about a lot of people claiming "they know the truth" without ANY facts since "everyone is entitled to their opinion".

And I'm reacting to that since I truly think that everyone is entitled to their own opinions after reviewing the FACTS. The FACTS I'm referring to by the way, is infectious disease statistics spreading all over the world (Sweden, UK and the USA among some places) where the pockets of non-vaccinations spread and where the diseases are creeping up and the innocent (babies, children on chemotherapy who can't get vaccinated, and grandparents (who are old and therefore don't get the same protection with vaccinations) are getting sick, affected and dying.

You know, I' m all for "your choice" if you live in a remote area and don't socialize with anyone (not the elderly or children below 2 years of age). Go right ahead. If you don't live like that though, tough choice. You should really feel responsible for the health of your neighbour (or older and younger relatives). It's called HERD IMMUNITY since it is considering everyone living together and you should really have a sense of respect towards your neighbours and family. God knows there are plenty of people living in the world where they don't have a choice and their young children and old relatives die everyday. That'd called the "Developing world". Why don't you go look for the stats there and then come back. I can promise you that's it's pretty hard to keep your "I don't think the vaccination is good for my child" after looking at the reality of the communities where there isn't herd immunity and the disease is rampage and killing babies. Maybe if we get there (oh the sadness if we get there again) the people who talk about "their choice" and "it's not that bad" really understand what we - the scientists - are talking about.

I simply wish that we don't have to get there since it means a lot of dead people in the meantime.


Amanda@Lady Scientist said...

This infuriates me, too! I get so, so very angry about the anti-vax people.

Anonymous said...

Don't think that if you are a scientist, it automatically puts you into a pro-vax camp. I'm a scientist as well and also have a capability of reading real science papers. Nevertheless, I'm antivax. But my advice to people around is not "do not vax". My advice is "do your own research" - on vaxes and then make you own solid decision. My difference? I ddid read literature on vaccines or papers. I do not want to go fighting with you. I was thinking the same way when I had my first child. Then I learned about autism-vax controversy, and at the same time my first developed atopical dermatitis. It's autoimmune. And there's a science paper (not retracted) linking it to vaccines. So, when I had my second one, I read. First, Dr. Sears book, it's excellent, it's just a clear info and numbers. Then, knowing a bit about biotech stocks and following some of those who were making vaccines... Altogether - safety has never been fully established. All vaxes currently are required by the FDA to be compared to the control consisting of previous version of the same vax, not just placebo. Safety is followed for 3 months, 6 at best. Never long-term. Thus if a vaccine is FDA approved, it does not mean yet it's completely safe. You don't have any double blind randomized study even just on couple vax versus non-vax. Retrospective studies like Danish one was conducted by vaccine institute thus is biased by definition plus there's some critique how they treated statistics (stat is a prostitute and we all know this as scientists). Measles? Sure, you can die. But it's not due to measles per se, it's due to bad nutrition and oragnism just does not have enough stamina to endure the virus. Same thing as flu. I had measles at 1.5 yo and then went through high school outbreak when I was 15. I did not get sick of course, my classmates did. None of them had any problems though it's nasty at such an age. Side effects happen at rate maybe 1 in 10K. Deaths happen in Africa but not in US. Not even in Soviet Union in 70s. Measles death rate in USA dropped sharply way before the vaccine has been introduced. Male sterility after mumps? Yes if you have it around puberty or older, not in childhood. I think more than half of males in my environment in Ukraine had mumps and I don't know anyone having troubles with fertility. They all had it at tender age. Pertussis and chicken pox are my favorites. Completely harmless if you have it in childhood. Pertussis is actually pretty easy in adulthood as well, the only thing that a female is better have it before pregnancy, that's it. Same is true with rubella. The most useless stuff is gardasil. Without even getting into details of the virus, please tell me - how do you know how well is it protecting from cancer if girls will have a chance of getting it no earlier than 20 or more years later? That being said, my 4 year old second one is healthier than most of his peers in terms of regular colds/flu. Maybe I'll give him polio and tetanus shots. Later. Surprisingly I know a lot of people with kids non-vax. They are not scientists but they all have college degree and kids. As I said, you don't really deeply give a shit on this before you have kids. All the best!

chall said...

Anon: the longest comment with so many misconceptions but the best rudeness comes in the last sentence. What could I possibly know about any of this until I have children of my own?"

chall said...

And, dr Sears book is one if the worst books I've ever read. The damage it continues to do... Same thing with the book as with the comment. Taking things together and making small detail changes (wrongly so) and in the end drawing massively incorrect conclusions. All mainly based on "parents inherently know what's best for their children", "childhood diseases aren't bad, just nutrition", "pharma and government are wanting to hurt us". I really don't know if it's worth going through your whole comment to explain exactly what is wrong with it. Because as sure you are in that you're all knowing, as sure am I that you are misguided and putting people at risk.

cromercrox said...

One of the problems is that people have short memories. I suspect that many anti-vaxxers aren't old enough to know what some of these infectious diseases were like. I am over 50 and I can. Diseases such as measles and diphtheria were still around, and they caused significant death and disability. I rremember being in an isolation hospital aged 5, with measles and pneumonia. The best way to convince anti-vaxxers to get their kids vaccinated would be hard-hitting government information films showing what the effects of these diseases on their children can be.

Anonymous said...

Somewhat late :) I'm the first "Anon". Sorry, I have never meant to be rude. My last sentence actually reflects my own experience... It means what it says - you (I, or anyone) would not care about the stuff until it really touches you, hence until you get kids. I did not even bother with my 1st one - I came to US when she was 2 months old. I got suspicious about dense vax US program as my country has much less and not so aggressively put, it's still a lot of will. It comes down to rate of like 50% of vaccination, at least in tender age. Docs were telling my friends "do not do it now, very bad vaccine". To another - "ok, your guy is fine now (had operation after birth for minor reason) but you get to THINK about vaccines." Mom got stunned and thought. The result - she's happy, her second one is much healthier, mirroring my own situation. Thus I do not fit the description "many anti vax are not old enough and thus they just do not remember/know". I know. I have not been vaxed myself after I barely survived at 32 wks birth. I was weak and such, but I did survive measles and pertussis at home, not hospital. Like my friends. Speaking of Sears book - what damage does it do by stating the statistics of MMR inicidence/death/side effects before vax? What info there was a lie? And honestly, you should be of my generation, did you get nearly 50 vaccines before you were 1-2 years old? Did you get 50 vaccines at all? Did you get MMR at this age or much later? My generation in USSR did have separate measles vax... At 15 yrs old mostly.
All the best, JFox.