Do the Right Thing!
Every August we are hit by a wave of publicity for National Immunization Awareness Month, reminding everyone in the United States to get their children vaccinated, themselves vaccinated, their parents vaccinated, probably even their dogs and cats and goldfish vaccinated.
Vaccinations shouldn’t be that difficult to sell. Who wants their child to die of a communicable disease like mumps? And we all know that influenza kills 36,000 Americans each and every year, because this number is mentioned in just about every news story pushing the influenza vaccine, so it shouldn’t be difficult to convince millions to get their annual flu shot. Except that the Wall Street Journal points out that there are some valid questions about this widely publicized number from the CDC. Even mainstream publications sometimes have questions about diseases and vaccines. Once in a while.
Let’s take a look at some of the popular strategies deployed in the struggle to persuade people to get their children vaccinated.
Fear of disease is one of the most common and insidevaccines has already written a number of blogs on inflated mortality statistics, marketing strategies to build demand for vaccines, and scary misinformation spread by supposedly authoritative sources.
Warning parents that their children will spread disease to other children if they are left unvaccinated is currently one of the major vaccine marketing strategies. Dr. Karp said:
This is one of the most critical issues facing parents: Are shots a personal choice or a civic duty?
After some discussion, he concludes:
By immunizing at least 95% of children with these shots we create “herd immunity” that can totally halt the spread of deadly epidemics in our communities. Herd immunity stymies the spread of disease the way that frequent rain keeps lightening strikes from starting raging forest fires.
Forest fires, what an interesting comparison! And an unfortunate choice by Dr. Karp, for anyone who is familiar with the history of forest fire prevention in the U.S.
For most of the 20th century, U.S. federal fire policy focused on suppressing all fires on national forests. The goal was to protect timber resources and rural communities, but this policy ignored the ecological importance of fire. North American forests have evolved with fire for thousands of years. Fire returns nutrients to soils, encourages growth of older fire-resistant trees, and promotes establishment of seedlings.
Decades of fire exclusion have produced uncharacteristically dense forests in many areas. Some forests, which previously burned lightly every 15-30 years, are now choked with vegetation. If ignited, these forests erupt into conflagrations of much higher intensity than historic levels. Grasses, shrubs, and saplings in the understory now form a fuel ladder, through which flames can climb to the forest canopy, killing entire forest stands.
The current policy in the U.S. is to use every vaccine invented to prevent what used to be common childhood illnesses, an interesting parallel to the fire policy which tried to prevent all fires. This vaccine policy pays no attention to declining disease rates before the wide deployment of the vaccine (diphtheria), the complex relationship of the illness to the entire population from children to the elderly (chickenpox), the lack of efficacy at preventing transmission (pertussis), or the truly scary problems related to serotype replacement (Prevnar and Hib vaccines).
American children should be the healthiest kids in the world because they get more vaccines than any other children in the world. But they aren’t. And American forests should be in wonderful shape after many, many years of protection from fire…but they aren’t.
Just as forests evolved with fire, human beings have evolved with illness. Do we really understand the possible effects on the development of the human immune system which result from using vaccines to prevent normal childhood illnesses like mumps or chickenpox? The usual argument is that we have to protect the small group of vulnerable children who cannot cope with illness by vaccinating everyone. Instead of risking the health of millions of healthy children by dosing them with more and more vaccines, how about studying what causes some children to be vulnerable and figuring out how to protect this small sub-group who don’t seem to be able to cope with illness?
It used to be our civic duty to prevent forest fires. And preventing human caused forest fires was a good idea: put out your campfire and don’t toss cigarette butts! But preventing natural forest fires caused by lightning strikes turned out to be a disastrous mistake.
Proclaiming that it is a civic duty for every parent to vaccinate their children with every possible vaccine is quite similar to trying to prevent all forest fires. It is our civic duty to keep our children at home if they are sick and to make reasonable attempts to avoid spreading illnesses, even illnesses which are not related to vaccines!
Volunteering our kids for up to 70 doses of vaccines between birth and age 18 isn’t a civic duty.
We don’t feel that keeping pharmaceutical industry profitability chugging along is a civic duty either. Do you?