I got a shot the other week.
Just a little prick. Didn’t hurt.
I loved it, actually. It made me feel safe. And I wanted to tell everybody.
But I didn’t.
Because I was afraid.
I was scared of the scorn I thought my actions would elicit from a few remaining anti-vaccination friends and family members.
But I am going to suck it up, because there is so much anti-vaccination misinformation flying through the blogosphere, Facebook, and professional-looking pseudoscience pages online, that it is now time for a large-scale public push-back.
Anti-vaccination propaganda is insidious. Its personalised nature versus the faceless “medical profession” gives it a safe, community sort of feel that mass vaccination programme proponents don’t have – if it’s a caring friend telling you how bad vaccines are, how could they not be right?
The moment people start going “Shit I have a child shit I have to look after it oh god I’m in charge of a teeny human” there are all these knowing looks from people who appear to be alternatively-informed (and, it is insinuated, better-informed) about the issue of vaccination. You take their excellent advice on, perhaps, in-laws and breastfeeding, then all of a sudden We don’t vaccinate, they secretively say, and the seed is planted.
It isn’t fair, because in these alarmingly effective conversations, there isn’t a biologist, doctor or scientist there to provide a sane counter-argument against the fever of the modern “anti-vax” brigade.
There is a lot of very persuasive material out there to scare those new to the vaccination debate, when really, there is little to debate. I don’t see any reason to shame or belittle people who have been taken in by anti-vaccination propaganda (I was, for a short time, one of them!), but a push-back against the movement is required.
Bravery will be needed, because oh man there are some high-and-mighty, holier-than-thou people who smugly say “I suggest you read [link] or [book] or [article].”
If someone does tell you to read “Just a Little Prick” or any of the other dodgy, alarmist books and articles out there, think of all the other articles that you probably haven’t read yet, showing wonderful, spectacular achievements for humanity via vaccines – and hey, do you know anybody with polio, smallpox, or diphtheria? No? Neither.
Real bad diseases seem personally rare, and it is entirely thanks to vaccines. Smallpox is gone forever. We were nearly rid of the dreadful measles, but we got complacent, and the anti-vaccination brigade compounded our laziness with fear.
Little old Chicken pox (varicella) can kill you.
Yet who knew that there was a vaccine for the Chicken pox/varicella virus now? Most people in New Zealand aren’t vaccinated for it, because varicella has come to be seen as a normal childhood illness, while vaccination is seen as optional and dangerous and a conspiracy by governments to fill us full of toxins and monkeys and despicable mind-control agents.
Yet in the 10 years following 1995, when varicella vaccinations were introduced in the US, the varicella vaccine has been just common enough so that from 13,000 serious hospitalisations and more than 150 deaths per year in the US before 1995, there has been a 71% drop in hospitalisations and a 97% drop in death rate: just 5 have died of chickenpox per year. It is no longer as prevalent as it was, and vaccination is the reason. Those people increasing innocent people’s exposure by attending pox parties are… just… I… aargh.
I cannot get the flu jab because it has an egg base and I have had allergic reactions to egg. Likewise, many people cannot receive various vaccines – others with serious allergies or immune system diseases like HIV, folks receiving treatment for cancer, and pregnants are a few examples. Herd immunity, where the vaccination-provided immunity of the population protects the unprotected, should be saved for them, not for a healthy young family in Birkenhead.
There are plenty of other arguments against vaccination that seem, on the surface, reasonable. Like, an anti-vaxxer might warn you of vaccine “overloading” causing deaths in sick babies, and give you a couple of shocking anecdotal examples.
But no healthy child’s immune system is going to be overloaded by the large number of shots now given at once. In fact, the number of immune challenges introduced into a child’s body in a day (about 2,000-6,000 including hundreds of bacteria and viruses) is huge in contrast to the paltry 150 particles in the entire vaccination schedule.
The difference is, the immune challenges in vaccinations are specifically for bacteria and viruses known to be very deadly or dangerous to humans. Babies with compromised immune systems or other complications will get the opportunity to get their vaccinations when they are healthy enough. In the meantime, herd immunity should be saved for them, and we are their herd.
People who are anti-vaccination end up, when challenged by someone who knows their stuff, saying things you apparently can’t argue with, like Well, I’m not putting that toxic stuff in my kids, end of argument.
You just hope it’s not their kid who becomes a headline due to other stuff – natural, deadly microbial stuff – getting into their kids, like these poor souls. Now that would be a hard lesson to learn.
Roald Dahl, whose daughter died of measles just one year before the vaccine was introduced, would have been saved so much heartbreak.
These people, this “anti-vax” movement, they are wrong, but they are persuasive. They use the natural fallacy liberally.
It’s got formaldehyde in it! You want to inject your kids with formaldehyde? They hiss. So? Reading the full list of ingredients on a vaccine doesn’t particularly alarm me. The human body makes formaldehyde as a byproduct, and in much greater amounts than you’d find in any vaccine. Our systems deal with it very matter-of-factly. And as of the year 2000, there is no mercury in vaccines, and the mercury that used to be present in tiny amounts was not methyl mercury but ethyl mercury, which does not bioaccumulate (and you’d get more from a standard can of tuna anyway). But aluminium!!!, they screech then. You mean the third most common element and the most common metal in the earth’s crust?
Anti-vaccination proponents have been alarmingly effective at using big scary science words like glutaraldehyde to tap into the general anxieties parents have about their children’s comfort and health, worldwide drug corporations, and modern lifestyles with all the real and perceived risks.
Most of them do seem to be people wanting to just simplify their lives and live more plainly or naturally.
But we are natural. We are animals. I have little patience for people in 2013 who gossip about the “unnatural” processes of vaccination, while their kids eat artificially coloured lollies, benefit from sunscreen, Band-aids and Pamol, ride in cars in plastic car seats, and wear polyester blends. There’s nothing so great about natural. Shit is natural. Sharks are natural. Meningitis is natural. Ongaonga is natural.
And vaccines, made by primate mammals with lab equipment we invented, stimulate the natural human immune processes.
Scientists use natural ingredients (bacteria and viruses) and process them using natural substances like formaldehyde, trace mineral and metal elements, and sterile human or animal tissue (not cool? Oh, do you not eat meat or egg, breathe dust, chew your fingernails, or kiss someone and swallow their hormones and saliva?), so that they are not a danger. They then introduce the resulting compound to your body. Your own natural immune system then gathers around and investigates the intruder, and prepares its natural defences in case you are ever introduced to the very real, very nasty thing.
It is time we showed zero tolerance for misinformation about vaccines.
Misinformation is dangerous, and the level out there regarding vaccines is getting ridiculous. My horror-meter went sky-high when I recently met a maverick bloody midwife who told me she makes sure new mums and dads know about their “choices” regarding whether or not to vaccinate, as if the arguments for and against vaccinations were equal.
I mean, yeah, she’s right: there are two sides of the story. One has global scientific consensus, extensive research, and evidence that vaccines are an epic achievement with a real positive impact on global and local human health, and the other side of the story is chock full of obfuscation, debunked research, viral (sorry) misinformation, and myopic half-truths (for example, the polio vaccine can cause polio infection!! – semi-correct, once it did, between 1955-1963 when the vaccine was new, but it hasn’t since, and won’t again).
Vaccination isn’t a “personal choice.”
It’s not like choosing not to feed kids a Maggi cup-a-soup because of the additives. It’s not like choosing organic vegetables because of concerns about pesticides. It’s not about not giving them dairy products because they get the squits from milk. It’s not like choosing Ecostore cleaning products over more chemical-laden ones. It’s not pears versus pomegranates.
It’s a social responsibility.
It’s playing your part in the timeless deadly struggle between humanity and viruses and bacteria, and making sure each human in the world has as much protection as they can get.
In every single case, the benefits of a vaccine far outweigh any perceived or actual risks, and you are far more likely to die of a particular disease than from a reaction to the vaccine for it.
And the risk is slowly increasing. We are a global community of air travellers now.
Nobody is protected from the spread of viruses and bacteria except through vaccination.
Thanks to a lack of vaccines because of war and misinformation, polio is on the rise again in Pakistan and Syria. We can also thank the anti-vaccination brigade for a huge first-world-wide rise in whooping cough (which my cousin’s newborn daughter recently nearly died of after catching it from an infected unvaccinated young woman), measles (which very nearly killed my adult male friend last year), and even old-school diphtheria in several third-world countries.
It is enraging to see so many parents refusing to give their children the same medical care they themselves have benefitted from, but it is understandable that they don’t take it seriously enough: they simply haven’t seen what humanity has been up against, particularly the ancient smallpox.
My generation has undergone hugely popular vaccination drives, because our enthusiastic parents and grandparents did see with their own eyes the horror of polio, diphtheria, and whooping cough – warning: that link is a tiny helpless baby going through hell, but here’s another, because I’m really fucking serious about this. Whooping cough is not just a tickle in the throat. We take breathing for granted, until we can’t breathe.
Measles was so nearly eradicated: worldwide we had a 99% reduction, but it is coming back in ever-growing pockets, directly due to families who are misinformed (but – quite unfortunately for the rest of us – see their non-participation in mass vaccination as an educated stance; both virtuous and self-sacrificing). The family aspect is an aggravating factor; so often, anti-vaxxers infuriatingly add “…and I’m speaking as a parent.”
Sorry, but having unprotected heterosexual sex with the expected generative consequences does not confer expert status on medical and biological matters. Likewise, a natural-style parent who reads forwarded Facebook links and seeks websites that confirm a bias doesn’t equal an expert on vaccinations.
Too often, I have heard, We’re not vaccinating for [name of disease]. If we get it, we will deal with it then.
The analogy is: We’re not going to use seat belts. If we crash, we crash. The chances are low. We have good roads here in NZ.
So – what if you do crash, and your kids only have to live with minor injuries, but you also crashed into someone else, someone unwell, who wasn’t doing anything wrong, and they died, or were left blind or deaf, or with brain or limb deformities, or with a chronic illness, or you murdered their defenseless newborn baby?
Still we hear, Well, we didn’t vaccinate and our children are just fine – yes, great, but actually that’s thanks to the rest of us who are taking one for the team, getting all our jabs on your behalf (leeches!). It’s like saying I don’t know anyone with AIDS or HIV so I don’t need to use condoms. (Yes, it is exactly like that.)
Like car seats and seat belts, no vaccine is 100% effective. Viruses and bacteria continue to evolve, and we can only do our best. Indeed, some vaccinations only provide 30% initial immunity: you need boosters, which – as you grow up and become in charge of your own healthcare – seem like too much of a nice-to-have instead of a necessity (hence all these adults saying I got whooping cough even though I was immunised …bet you didn’t get your boosters).
The more people who are immunised, the less likely any disease is to spread, and the less likely those who are unprotected through no fault of their own will have to suffer the consequences of others’ ignorance.
I have a friend of Chinese heritage (relevant, because those with European ancestry often have stronger remnants of genetic immunity) who has no natural immunity to measles, and for some reason, measles vaccination hasn’t worked on her (though other vaccines have). She is forced to rely on simply not being exposed to it. It really worried her when she was pregnant. Nobody wants to have a deformed baby.
Last year, a different friend did nearly die of measles, after being exposed to it by an unimmunised child at his daughter’s daycare. He spent a week in hospital on a drip, ravaged by a 41 degree fever, and is lucky not to suffer lasting consequences. Many do. (My flatmate’s mother is deaf thanks to measles.)
I’m pretty left wing, eh. I hate war, and right wing political profiteers, and corporate greed. I am a keen gardener. I like to wear a mix of natural and unnatural fibres. I buy simple moisturisers and cosmetics. My mum is a potter. I’m vegetarian, with severe food allergies, and I have to eat gluten-free. I am so, so white, with several skin cancers already diagnosed and removed by the age of 32. I am undergoing rehab for major shoulder surgery. I have no choice but to look after my health.
I don’t have a child to vaccinate, and don’t want one. So I’m using myself as an example.
Two weeks ago, I was digging in the garden, and stabbed a muddy splinter down the side of my finger. It became very infected, and I had to go on a course of strong antibiotics. I also had to get a tetanus shot, because I hadn’t had one in several years. With my friends’ babies’ health in mind, I asked if I could get a whooping cough booster, and whatever else was available while I was there.
My doctor nearly hugged me. Yes, she exclaimed, told the nurse I was keen, and left us to it. As well as tetanus and whooping cough, this one gives you some polio and diphtheria protection at the same time, he told me, delighted to have somebody sane to immunise.
Load me up, I said. They gave me Adacel.
If it had been fed to me, I would have licked the spoon.
Just one tiny prick later, I am well protected, and so are those around me.
What about you?
It’s time to push back. Be a part of the global fight against viral and bacterial attack.
Don’t be afraid. There’s nothing to fear.
Vaccines can not only save your life, but stop you ruining someone else’s.
Get vaccinated, get your boosters, and get on the bandwagon:
Zero tolerance for misinformation on vaccination.