The anti-vaccine movement

A one month old has died of whooping cough in Australia, a tragic but inevitable event due to the anti-vaccine movement, who without a shadow of a doubt now have blood on their uneducated, ignorant hands.  A small group of people are now actively choosing to endanger the lives of everyone, but particularly those with infants and children not old enough to be vaccinated, those with recognized and unrecognized immune disorders, and those with developing immune disorders, such as leukemia, or even the elderly, as their immune systems fail or are suppressed by infection or medication.

Do I think governments should force people to be vaccinated?  No, I think that is probably going too far, and I can see problems there (although I am not actually completely against the idea).  But there should be serious consequences to not vaccinating your children or yourself, including not being allowed to attend or work in publicly funded schools, day cares, and possibly travel restrictions.  The contrast between the huge amount that is done to protect children with peanut allergies in the school environment and the little that is done to protect all children (and their potentially yet to be vaccinated siblings) who attend school from children who are not vaccinated is striking.  You are allowed to send your potentially deadly unvaccinated child to school, but I am not allowed to send in a granola bar unless it has the peanut free symbol on it.

So a bit about my son, who suffers from a primary immunodefiency.  I’m not going to go through the whole thing, but it is serious enough that he receives an infusion of a blood product every 1-2 months to boost his immune system, and hopefully prevent a devastating infection.  He has had a few of those. He has been vaccinated 3 times for some diseases and still has no immunity to them. So you know those 2, 4, and 6 month shots your baby got?  Max has done them three, yes that’s three times three, for a total of 9 needle pokes, without developing immunity to some of the diseases.  He is supposed to be able to benefit from herd immunity, but now can’t because a significant number of children aren’t vaccinated- up to 40-50 % in some schools.  To just explain herd immunity simply, it’s like passing along some juicy gossip,  except the gossip is oh, let’s say polio.   Say you have Dave, who talks to Susan, who talks to Paul, who talks to Mary, who talks to Karen, who talks to Joe, and who then talks to Amy, to get some gossip.  So if Dave passes on this juicy bit of gossip (polio), for the gossip to get to Amy, Dave has to be able to speak to Susan, who has to speak to Paul, and so on.  The vaccine makes Susan, Paul, Mary, and Karen deaf to Dave, so they can’t hear the gossip, which means Amy never hears it (ie she never gets polio, even though she isn’t vaccinated).  So let’s say Joe isn’t deaf (isn’t vaccinated)  and talks to Amy after learning the gossip from Dave.  Now Dave, Joe, and Amy all have polio.  You did not have enough people vaccinated to stop the disease from spreading. You know what the bit of gossip was?  VACCINES DON’T CAUSE AUTISM!!!!

It must be frustrating to be a parent of a child with autism, a sometimes devastating disease the incidence of which is on the rise and the cause of which is unknown.  If I had a kid with autism, what would make my blood boil about this is how distracting the whole vaccine and autism debate is.  If we had more wisely spent all the time and money which has been dedicated to falsely claiming that vaccines cause autism, and then added in all the time and money that has been spent trying to repair the damage from one fraudulent physician claiming that vaccines cause autism, we would probably have a better idea of WHAT ACTUALLY CAUSES AUTISM.  Which would be the first step towards prevention and treatment.  But now we are back to watching our kids die of whooping cough and panic setting in as the next measles outbreak occurs.  The thing about vaccines is, although there is a huge argument for getting the vaccine to benefit society, the main people who benefit are those closest to you, especially  your kids, the elderly in your life and those not old enough to be vaccinated.

There aren’t very many things we do in medicine that are much better proven than vaccines.  If you don’t trust physicians about vaccination, why would you trust us about anything else?  We must all be incompetent, immoral or both to continue to advocate for vaccinations. I think my public health colleagues have done all they can here.   It is time for governments to step up, and protect everyone from people who choose not to vaccinate their children.

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