Vaccines are safer than the alternative.
I’m going to lose some friends over this; the thing is that I don’t mind. There’s a chance that I’ll save some people from horrific, preventable diseases, or even death. Frankly, anyone who wants to get angry at me for that…well, let’s just say we are at a philosophical impasse.
Pregame: Why it might seem weird that I am pro-vaccination.
In nearly all other ways, I am a very crunchy, hippie mom. We buy local, organic, sustainably raised meat and produce. I wear my baby in a sling – heck, we don’t even own a stroller. Cloth diapered the older kid, still hoping to work out the logistics to do the same with the younger kid. No spanking, and we even try not to yell. Co-op preschool. I even ferment my own kombucha!
I’m a hippie mom – and I vaccinate on the standard schedule.
You know why? Because I love my kids, and I don’t want them to suffer through an awful disease. Moreover, I believe it is our civic duty to keep our vaccinations up-to-date.
And one more thing, and this is where I’ll really get in trouble:
Unless there is a medical reason that prevents you from getting your kids vaccinated (like an allergy to a vaccine component or a compromised immune system), if you choose not to vaccinate your children, I believe that you are a dangerously selfish person.
My reasons? Science and math.
I’m going to focus on the TDaP and MMR vaccines since those are the ones that most anti-vaxxers skip.
Don’t Whoop On Me
TDaP stands for Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis. In the anti-vaccinating crowd, most people indicate that they skip this one due to the presence of “toxic chemicals,” most often specifically citing the presence of formaldehyde and aluminum. While it’s true that the vaccine does contain these ingredients, the amounts are minuscule, and their relationship to disease states is overblown. In short, they don’t pose a threat, even to an infant. You’ll find about 50 times more formaldehyde in a pear than you will in a TDaP vaccine. You heard me, in a pear. And don’t try to pull some kind of silly, “yeah, but you don’t inject a pear into your bloodstream,” argument, because a) you don’t inject vaccines into your bloodstream, either, those are intramuscular injections, and b) your body naturally produces formaldehyde, in amounts much higher than are found in any vaccine. It’s in the metabolic pathway for DNA synthesis, for crying out loud.
So, how about the aluminum? Aluminum causes Alzheimer’s disease, right? Well, actually, no, that’s not really clear. Back in 1965, some scientists injected aluminum directly into the brains of lab animals and found that their neural tissue broke down in ways that were reminiscent of Alzheimer’s disease. Then there was an outbreak of dementia among dialysis patients whose dialysis fluids contained aluminum, and another researcher noticed that in areas where tap water was high in aluminum, there was a higher prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease. But then, when researchers directly compared the amount of aluminum in the tissues of people with Alzheimer’s to age-matched controls who did not have the disease, they found no difference. In fact, since roughly the early 1980s, attempts to link aluminum to Alzheimer’s have been unreliable. And, frankly, even if aluminum does cause Alzheimer’s, I’d rather have my kids live full lives that end in a few years of awful dementia than have my kids die of a preventable disease before they even get a chance to grow up.
In fact, I’m willing to exchange a few years of horrible dementia for my kids just to keep your kids from dying in their youth.
It’s Just a Measly Disease
Okay, up next, MMR. The anti-vaccination crowd suggests that the MMR vaccine causes autism. I’m going to put this in bold text because it’s important that you read this. The MMR vaccine does not cause autism. Autism is a genetically-based developmental disorder. That’s why it runs in families. That’s why it’s more common in boys than girls. That’s why researchers have documented autism symptoms in infants before they even reach the age when the first MMR booster is given. That’s why you can safely vaccinate your damn kids because autism is a genetically-based developmental disorder that cannot be caused by a vaccine. So, what about Dr. Wakefield’s work linking autism to the MMR vaccine? Yeah, it turns out he misrepresented or straight-up falsified the data from all 12 patients in his study. And the studies that have since debunked that work? Included thousands of patients, and produced replicable results clearly demonstrating that there is no link between vaccines and autism. So, if you choose not to vaccinate your kid as a result of your fear of autism, you really only increase the odds that your autistic child will come down with a nasty case of the measles. Good luck with that.
Surely This Can’t Happen to Me.
Next, some of you will suggest that the risk of these diseases is so low that there is really no reason to vaccinate.
Perhaps you aren’t aware of the huge measles outbreak in the UK this year? Or the one in Texas? Did you know about the confirmed cases of measles in Boston, New York, Orlando, and Seattle? How about the 9,000 folks who were diagnosed with whooping cough in California in 2010? And, can I say for the record that both the 2010 pertussis outbreak and the current measles outbreak have been linked to low vaccination rates, with the highest rates of disease found in those communities with the lowest vaccination rates? That’s the thing; your choice to forgo vaccination doesn’t just affect your family. By increasing the odds that someone carrying one of these diseases will come in contact with another person lacking immunity, you not only increase the risk to other unvaccinated and under-vaccinated people (like, you know, newborns, old people, kids with allergies, and kids with cancer), you also increase the risk that the efficacy of existing vaccines will be reduced by giving the viruses and bacteria an opportunity to mutate. So don’t try to pull some ridiculous excuse that your vaccination choice is just between you and your doctor when you’re actively putting my kids at risk.
“Well, yeah, I had a cough for 4 months, but it wasn’t that bad.”
But enough debunking. Let me talk about these diseases for a few paragraphs, because kids are dying, and suffering horribly, and the parents of this generation have the luxury of not knowing what these diseases do to people because vaccination so effectively eliminated them from our experience. These statistics and symptom lists are all from the CDC:
Tetanus: Tetanus is a bacterial infection that you can get when a cut or puncture wound is exposed to dirt, feces, or spit (so, basically, any cut a kid gets). Symptoms include headaches, painful muscle cramping of the jaw, muscle spasms throughout the body, and seizures. The muscle cramps are intense enough to break the infected person’s bones and can make it impossible to breathe. 10-20% of patients will die, usually as a result of this breathing difficulty.
Diphtheria: Diphtheria is horrifying. Someone coughs or sneezes, exposing you to the bacteria. You get a fever for a few days, then suddenly your body starts to produce a grayish-green coating in the back of the nose and throat that is so thick that you lose your ability to breathe or swallow. 10% of patients die. The good news is that vaccination has been particularly effective for diphtheria, with fewer than 5 cases reported annually, as compared to the 100,000 cases and 15,000 deaths each year before vaccination was common.
Pertussis: You have a cold – runny nose, maybe a mild fever for a couple of weeks. Then the coughing starts. The coughs come in fits, and it can be hard to breathe, and you might even throw up. The coughing fits last for two months, or sometimes even longer. Babies are particularly vulnerable to pertussis, with half of those infected ending up in the hospital, 1 in 8 ending up with pneumonia, and 1 in 200 dying. It’s no picnic for older kids or adults, either. Symptoms typically last 6-8 weeks and can include coughing so intense that you lose bladder control (1 in 4), pass out (1 in 20) or break a rib (1 in 25).
Mumps: Admittedly, the mumps is pretty mild. You get a fever and a headache, and your salivary glands swell up painfully on both sides of your jaw. Every once in a while, someone might get encephalitis. Slightly more commonly, male patients end up with tender, inflamed testicles.
Measles: You feel a little run down with a sore throat and a cough for a few days. Then, suddenly, your temperature spikes, and you get a rash all over your body, spreading from the head down. One in 20 kids will end up with pneumonia. One in 1,000 will develop encephalitis. One in 1,000 will die.
Rubella: Rubella is an interesting one. The disease is pretty mild – a low fever, a rash that lasts a few days. No big deal, right? Unless, of course, you catch it while you are pregnant. Among pregnant women who get rubella, as many as 85% will give birth to a child with birth defects. Congenital heart defects, mental retardation, and deafness are the most common.
Did I mention that my mom was deaf?
Show Me the Money!
One last thing. Some of you will retort with, “All of your sources were funded by big pharma!”
Okay, here’s the thing: producing the MMR and TDaP vaccines? That’s not profitable for big pharma. In fact, until the avian flu scare ten years ago, investment in vaccine research and development was dropping off dramatically precisely because there simply weren’t profits to be made in the vaccine business. It was only the demand for flu vaccines and the development of new vaccines like Gardisil that allowed a resurgence in interest in the vaccine market. Second, whose data, exactly, would you trust? If you’re unwilling to accept anything short of Jenny McCarthy in a lab coat (and, incidentally, upon learning that her son didn’t have autism, Ms. McCarthy reversed her stance against vaccination), then you are essentially putting forth a complete unwillingness to accept any scientific support for vaccination. Let me put it plain: you are accepting the intuitions of celebrities over the data of research scientists, and it is costing children their lives and their happiness.
Like Gavin Norton, who died of pertussis when he was barely 10 weeks old. He contracted the disease before he was eligible for his first TDaP vaccination.
Like 7-year-old Alijah Williams, who cut his foot, and ended up with a tetanus infection so severe that he was put into a medically induced coma. He hadn’t been vaccinated because his parents believed what they read online about the risk of adverse reactions to vaccines.
Like Dakota Colfer-Williams, who lost her dad at the tender age of 4. He died of measles earlier this year; fortunately, she survived because he had recently brought her in for vaccination.
My youngest daughter, Isabelle, is still 7 months away from her first scheduled MMR vaccine.
One of those confirmed cases of measles in the Seattle area is a kid known to have visited my town while contagious. That kid? Not vaccinated. And now, every time my baby gets a rash, I have to wonder whether she’s going to end up with encephalitis.
Vaccinate your damn kids. Please.
- The Value of Vaccination – World Health Organization – https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=4&cad=rja&ved=0CDgQFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.who.int%2Fimmunization_supply%2Ffinancing%2Fvalue_vaccination_bloom_canning_weston.pdf&ei=dNBMUorAFOHniAKI6oDgCQ&usg=AFQjCNEScPw1TOb9lzG13tmcrE0Spm4PKw&bvm=bv.53537100,d.cGE