2009-10-08

Another New Vaccine, Another Scare

(main article by Mike Stobbe, AP)
Now with the swine flu vaccine being administered in large numbers, according to this Associated Press poll, about 1/3 of parents of toddlers and school-age children oppose vaccinating their children.
Why is that problematic/troubling?
For one thing, there is an effect with vaccines such that if a large majority (but not necessarily the entirety) of the population is vaccinated, the disease is contained enough that those who don't get vaccinated won't get the disease.
This fails to be true when numbers as large as 1/3 of school-age children are not vaccinated. Now, many more people can get and spread the disease because fewer people are being vaccinated.

"Jackie Shea of Newtown, Conn., the mother of a 5-year-old boy named Emmett, says the vaccine is too new and too untested."
That is a fair concern, as this is a new disease. Though it has been established that swine flu more adversely affects kids around Emmett's age as well as the elderly, the vaccine itself may still show side effects not-yet-known now later on.

But, "We're talking about putting an unknown into him. I can't do that."
Apparently this lady has no idea how a vaccine works.
A vaccine is a shot of weakened or dead viruses into the bloodstream. The idea is that these viruses are not harmful, so the immune system can form the proper cells to combat this virus (when it does show up for real) without any other effects (i.e. actually falling sick).
Yes, swine flu is a new disease, but as it is a virus, this is pretty much the only way to prevent actually falling sick from swine flu, which would be detrimental to younger kids' health.
Furthermore, kids spread it easier than other people due to not being trained in proper hygiene techniques earlier on (among other things), so why doesn't this lady want her child to be protected?

"Basically, the swine flu is the flu. I'm not overly excited about it," said Julie Uehlein, a Tullahoma, Tenn., mother who is against swine flu vaccinations for her 8-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.

"My concerns about the vaccine are what are the long-term effects," she added.

The swine flu is not the flu. A regular flu shot will not protect one from swine flu, as they are different viruses!
That said, the concern about long-term effects is a valid one, but that is only if these children have been vaccinated before (seasonal flu shots, MMR, etc.) and have shown adverse reactions to these vaccines.

This following series of statements, however, is most troubling.

Fears that the preservative or something in vaccines themselves can lead to autism remain entrenched in some quarters — despite no evidence from the most rigorous scientific studies.

Some autism advocacy groups echo parents' concerns about swine flu vaccine, and also argue it's a bad idea to spend so much time and money on the new flu.

"We're flipping out over swine flu, but it's only affected a few thousand people. Why isn't somebody freaking out about the autism epidemic?" said Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association.

Well, the first sentence says most of it. Even the mainstream media is sick of hearing about the so-called "connection" between thimerosal-preserved vaccines and autism.
Next, why is it a bad idea to spend time and money on flu vaccination efforts? It's saving lives!
Furthermore, while it is true that in the USA, people haven't been affected that much, with increasing global travel, viruses that could once have been contained cannot anymore. Also, how is autism an epidemic? I've read essays by actual autistic people, and while they do need help to live, they don't want to be cured. Then again, the topic of neurodiversity (what autistic people want to call differences in actual brain function) is one for another day.
More to the point, the problem with "freaking out about the autism epidemic" is that about the same percentage of the population has had autism. It's just that before autism became mainstream knowledge, doctors called it other things and put patients in mental institutions, so such conditions were rarely heard of. Now, with widespread knowledge of autism, in many cases doctors are misdiagnosing another set of conditions as autism. It is entirely possible that some mental conditions that exhibit some symptoms of autism are being labeled "autism" due to lack of a more accurate designation.
Yes, autistic people do need care, but why should that take precedence over protecting people's lives?

I want to end with a short discussion I read in another article dealing with vaccines and autism (when not as many studies were done about the link (or lack thereof)). One lady interviewed there said that she would not be vaccinating her children because it would be introducing foreign substances into the body when the body can naturally fight and get rid of these viruses.
What?
Lady, that's exactly how a vaccine works!
Furthermore, do you not know your history? The overwhelming majority of Native Americans were wiped out because of disease carried by European colonists. They had no prior immunity, so their immune systems and bodies succumbed to these new disease. Lady, your children are the immune equivalent of these Native Americans!

(UPDATE: I heard on the news just now what the term is when the majority of the population is immunized, protecting the not-immunized. It's called herd immunity. Thus, what I was trying to say was that herd immunity is lost when large numbers of the population (i.e. 1/3 of it) chooses not to get vaccinated in the face of a new disease.)

2 comments:

  1. you missed a really important reason to not get vaccinated:

    swine flu isn't really that dangerous, and it is better to get it and be sick for a little, so that if it mutates later into something actually dangerous, you will already have antibodies.

    its not clear that a swine flu vaccine will be close enough to the mutated swine flu for those antibodies to help.

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  2. "swine flu isn't really that dangerous"
    Sir, I present to you exhibit A.
    http://health.yahoo.com/news/reuters/us_flu_clots.html
    "so that if it mutates later into something actually dangerous, you will already have antibodies"
    No you won't. You won't be helped for a mutation; if you're talking about the original strain, that's the entire point of a vaccine.
    In fact, you yourself prove that in the next sentence; the effect will be the same (no immunity) for a mutation if you get vaccinated versus actually getting sick.

    ReplyDelete