February 07, 2015
Thinking About Vaccines

Rod Dreher relates what a doctor tells parents who won't vaccinate:

“People talk about not wanting to put toxins into their kids’ immune systems,” the doc said. “I tell them that the last time you fed them fries from McDonalds, you put more toxins into your kid’s body than you would with vaccine.”

We are at a stage where people have no memory of just how dangerous pathogens used to be. There is no visceral fear of viruses and bacteria. Children in wheelchairs as a result of polio are a thing of the past because the United States has been polio free since 1979 as a result of vaccines. The only people I've ever met who were hobbled by damage from polio were older than me.

Most prospective parents do not know anyone who has lost a kid to infectious diseases. As fear of smallpox, polio, and other killer diseases has faded people look around and notice what problems parents do have with their children. Mental disorders have become better measured and reported. So residents of industrialized countries hear much more about mental disorders (which often surface in the first couple of years of life near the time period when vaccines are being administered) than about killer bacteria and viruses.

I am skeptical of the claim that vaccines pose a risk for autism. Why? Because many studies big enough to test hypotheses relating to vaccine and autism have been done which did not find a link. Check out this review of vaccine autism studies to get a sense of much effort has gone into investigating this question. What's most impressive: both removal of thimerosal and reduction of vaccine usage did not reverse the growing rates of autism diagnosis. Also, rates of autism diagnosis did not start with introduction of various vaccines.

Do vaccines have problems? Sure. Vaccines cause some side effects at very low rates. But the frequencies of complications are so low that large populations must be studied to pick up potential problems. Vaccines have been improved to reduce the risks of side effects.

Another problem: vaccine costs are soaring. Newer generation vaccines are safer but more expensive to get approved. The barriers to entry are higher and so are prices.

I do not expect an innumerate and unscientific public to become more trusting of medical organizations that support vaccination. In some communities herd immunity has already been lost and it will be lost in more other communities. This trend will continue until an old disease comes sweeping thru and racks up lots of damage and fatalities.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2015 February 07 07:49 PM 


Comments
Ominous said at February 7, 2015 9:34 PM:

It had been 14 years, so I got my boosters. There's a bay between me and them, but I live near a place where one of the schools is below 60% vaccinated. It is a nightmare waiting to happen.

Brett Bellmore said at February 8, 2015 4:34 AM:

I would say that the answer to an innumerate and unscientific public is not to somehow convince them to become more trusting of the authorities. Authorities always abuse uncritical trust. Always.

The answer is to make them numerate and scientific. Not easy, but it is the answer, not just to this problem, but many others.

Oh, btw, some vaccines cause side effects at a fairly high rate. I got the shingles vaccine not so long ago, I was warned by the pharmacist that about a third of the people getting it had a fairly painful reaction. Sure enough, the next day I had a goose egg at the injection site literally the size of a goose egg, quite hot and painful, and developed a localized rash, too. Took a week to get back to normal.

And, considering what shingles are like, small price to pay.

Brett Bellmore said at February 8, 2015 4:35 AM:

I would say that the answer to an innumerate and unscientific public is not to somehow convince them to become more trusting of the authorities. Authorities always abuse uncritical trust. Always.

The answer is to make them numerate and scientific. Not easy, but it is the answer, not just to this problem, but many others.

Oh, btw, some vaccines cause side effects at a fairly high rate. I got the shingles vaccine not so long ago, I was warned by the pharmacist that about a third of the people getting it had a fairly painful reaction. Sure enough, the next day I had a goose egg at the injection site literally the size of a goose egg, quite hot and painful, and developed a localized rash, too. Took a week to get back to normal.

And, considering what shingles are like, small price to pay.

Engineer-Poet said at February 8, 2015 4:51 PM:

And if you can't make people numerate and scientific, what then?

Even that wouldn't be enough, because even if the public had the ability to understand the salient facts and reasoning on any issue of public importance, it would still be impossible to understand all of them.  There just isn't enough time.  Some amount of trust in experts is essential.  Picking those experts... tough job, one the media, PR outfits and politicized academia make well-nigh impossible to do right.

Chang said at February 8, 2015 9:02 PM:

People w/ sub 100 IQs simply are incapable of becoming numerate and scientific. They aren't uneducated, they are stupid. They can't be convinced by good, logical arguments -- they are too dumb. They can be convinced by social pressure or by dumb arguments. Or by force.

Randall Parker said at February 8, 2015 9:36 PM:

Brett Bellmore,

You can't make people more numerate.

Vaccines at pharmacy: aside from flu shots I'd noticed this before. But I just did some web searches and, yes, lots of vaccines at CVS for example. Any idea which ones are worth getting aside from shingles? Looks like one can spend a thousand dollars on assorted vaccines.

Brett Bellmore said at February 9, 2015 3:02 AM:

Well, the shingles was a no-brainer for me: My mother, for all practical purposes, died of shingles. Apparently a dose of the wrong steroid at the wrong point in a shingles attack can vastly worsen the symptoms.

Aside from that, I just take my doctor's advice: That's what I'm paying him for, after all.

Brett Bellmore said at February 9, 2015 3:16 AM:

Chang, it's true that there's a substantial part of the population who are too stupid to become more than minimally numerate, or scientifically literate. But they aren't the problem, such people will usually take their cues from those around them, and tend not to be very influential.

The problem is the large faction who are innumerate, scientifically illiterate, and smart enough to be fairly influential. Such people represent failures of the education system in a sense the first group do not.

Assuming the education system is genuinely intended to educate, which is increasingly dubious.

kenneth t.kendrick said at February 9, 2015 3:06 PM:

80% of americans think there should be mandatory labeling for foods that contain DNA. ps:your capchas are tough.

Mark said at February 10, 2015 8:49 AM:

Imposing on the daisy chain here. I'm numerate. I'm scientific. And our children aren't vaccinated.

It's odd, this alliance between the vanishing American conservatives and their ideological foes over at HuffPost and DailyKos, united in snark to gang up on non-vaccinating adults. I've yet to see anywhere the average IQ of those who aren't vaccinating their children vs. those who are. Both lockstep liberals and reactionary conservatives subtly imply that it's the lumpenproletariat that are refusing to follow the CDC vaccine schedule, which is not the case in any community one examines. It's the educated, the creative, and the employed doing so, and the ones that I know are doing it based on study and observation, not because of some sound bite or celebrity directive. Shuffling throngs, on the other hand, with their acceptable political beliefs and their DIRECTV remotes in their hands, do whatever they're told, and the 49 doses a child is supposed to receive by age 6 can be upped to 149 and they'll still be nodding their heads and lining up.

http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/downloads/parent-ver-sch-0-6yrs.pdf

There is simply no evolutionary thought at work among you safe conservatives, no grasp of biological interactions along a millennial continuum. Seriously, you want you offspring vaccinated for chicken pox? Do you even know what it is or how it works, without your quick browser check of wikipedia? Has it really come this far? Chicken pox?

"We are at a stage where people have no memory of just how dangerous pathogens used to be." LOL. I can use shifting baseline syndrome too and say that people have no memory of what a healthy human being used to be. You live in a land populated by unfit slobs who can't walk a mile, maniacs who randomly scream and hurl desks in public schools, and zombies who remain in a bizarre folded condition in front of a glowing square for huge portions of their lives. Your soy-infused men can't do a single pullup and your women are essentially barren. Granted, it's not an "all or nothing" scenario - America has a host of problems, and vaccinations the way they're currently administered are only one among dozens. But that doesn't mean that GlaxoSmithKline or the American Legislative Exchange Council aren't some places to turn your gaze when you're trying to figure our why your only son wraps his arms around himself and hums for 12 hours a day.

The quote offered up by Rod Dreher sums it up: "People talk about not wanting to put toxins into their kids’ immune systems,” the doc said. “I tell them that the last time you fed them fries from McDonalds, you put more toxins into your kid’s body than you would with vaccine." Uh, it's not the parents who pump the bilge from a blight like McDonalds into their kids' bodies that are avoiding vaccines. Wake up.

P.S.

Here's your numerate and scientific Dreher: "[...]my view is this: order in creation does not prove God, but it is a sign pointing to God. Even if God’s existence could be proved, it changes nothing; even the devil believes in God, but rejects Him. God desires to live in communion with us. Recognizing His existence with the intellect is only a start. He wants not our minds, but our hearts. In Kierkegaardian terms, God is a subjective truth — a truth that can only be known by appropriating it with the most passionate inwardness. We don’t know God like we know the Second Law of Thermodynamics; we know God like we know the love of our father.

Science can be a signpost on the way to God, but no more than that. A God whose existence can be proven is not God."

Ugh.

Kiwi said at February 11, 2015 1:08 PM:

LOL. Great post, Mark.

Tj Green said at February 13, 2015 3:38 PM:

Vaccination and trips to the countryside educates children's immune system. Vaccines should be free.

KBK said at February 15, 2015 6:39 PM:

Good grief, Mark, where are you coming from? Do you think being in better shape will protect you from measles and chicken pox? Sure, subject your kids, who have no choice, to these awful diseases, which used to kill most children. But don't be surprised if you find them excluded from school, etc., due to lack of vaccination once the epidemic arrives. Assuming they survive.

You don't seem very well educated. I'm guessing you don't believe in evolution.

FrancisChalk said at February 15, 2015 9:15 PM:

The problem with the "medical and scientific" communities is they have squandered their credibility with the public due to injecting large doses of ideology and dogma into science and medicine. The global warming double speak, deceit, and falsification/obscuration of data is seen, correctly, by many as proof that ideological concerns trump science, with the ideological types all the while accusing the "show me the evidence" types of being science deniers. Similarly, the medical community does a 180 reversal on its dietary guidelines (from a food pyramid that recommends 70% carbs to one that recommends 30%) while steadfastly denying, minimizing and/or hiding the reversal. Why? To save face for being so clueless about something as elementary as nutrition, I guess, but who knows, except we all know honesty isn't a priority. And now they were wrong about cholesterol . . .oops. Something they were so certain on for all these years. The case for credibility is further harmed by hopelessly ideological publications like the Lancet and Nature being staunchly defended by the medical and scientific communities with nary a smidgen of dissent. Lock-step conformity does not endear trust. Combine this with the strong, Leftist ideological bent now front and center in that former bastion of science, NASA, and observe the "bought and paid for" stance taken by the AMA on countless issues and it's little wonder much of the public no longer defers to the "expertise" of the scientific and medical establishment anymore, on vaccinations or anything else.

art said at February 16, 2015 4:59 AM:

A proposal for educating the non vaccinators which is both educational and protective(for those who vaccinate).
Segregate the non vaccinated children in "conscientious objector" schools at the expense of the parents. The eventual epidemic would get enough attention to frighten and educate. Those who are afraid of vaccination are unaware of how destructive these diseases can be, they can maim more than they kill.

Michael W. Perry said at February 16, 2015 6:34 AM:

Call down, take a deep breathe, and then settle back in your chair FuturePundit. The past isn't quite as you imagine it.

All vaccines aren't for smallpox or polio. Did you realize that? Yes, when there was a time when a smallpox epidemic could decimate a community, killing perhaps 30% of the population. That why inoculation with cowpox, which had about a 1% death rate, was considered a great alternative. And when I was in school, I had a classmate who was partly disabled by polio he'd gotten just before there was a polio vaccine. People have forgotten the great sense of relief that parents all across America felt when the Salk vaccine came out. They've also forgotten, and public health experts are not telling us, that the first large batch of polio vaccine was so sloppily manufactured, 170 children, if memory serves me correctly, got polio. This history is a bit more mixed than many claim.

That's also not the only history of vaccination. There are plenty of us around who grew up when there was no vaccines for common childhood illnesses such as chicken pox, measles and mumps. We remember the world we lived in. We even remember having those quite commone illnesses. What do I remember most about having measles and mumps? Not pain and suffering. No, what I remember was the boredom of being stuck in bed for about a week. I don't even remember having chicken pox. I only know I had it because my baby book records it.

And what about one of the best known of those childhood vaccines—the MMR for measles, mumps and rubella. It's not an unalloyed triumph. I worked at a major children's hospital for over two years. Kids with whooping cough were common. It's serious enough for overnight hospitalization. But I never cared for an unvaccinated child who has caught measles, mumps or rubella. I did, however, care for one extremely miserable little boy who'd gotten his MMR shot and promptly came down with all three. Probably a defective 'hot lot' like that polio vaccine of the 1950s.

And yes, study a bit of history and you'll discover that there was a time when a measles epidemic could kill hundreds or even thousands. That happened at military camps during the Civil War. I suspect the reason is similar to the one that made polio a disease of developed countries with normally clean water supplies. In impoverished countries, the polio virus was so common, small children were exposed while they still had antibodies from their mother. They got a mild case and either acquired life-long immunity or acquired enough immunity to protect them when they acquired the disease again and their own immune system had to fight it. In the same way, for children of my generation we acquired some herd immunity to the wild virus when we were very young and that made the disease much milder when we acquired it in earnest later in childhood.

I'm not anti-vaccination. I get every one I can. But this isn't as many are claiming, a battle between good, rational, fact-oriented science and evil irrational, illogical "anti-vaxers." There are a host of reasons for parents to distrust those who want to push vaccination. The poor controls and followup for bad lots. The sluggishness and resistance with which public health experts (not the best and brightest in medicine) meet with criticism.

Look at the CDCs blundering response to Ebola, for instance. The disease has been known since the mid-1970s, and yet the CDC had yet to develop a quick-reaction response to the high level of isolation it requires. It's not that the CDC wasn't pushing hospitals to train some staff in those isolation techniques. The CDC had not even developed the training materials. And that's not getting into the CDCs dreadful willingness to play political games with the disease. We literally had more controls in place to prevent plant diseases or rare orchids from coming into this country than the CDC wanted to implement for Ebola.

No, the problem isn't really with vaccination. The problem is with those in public health who run vaccination programs and dishonestly promote them. Some parents may be over-reacting, but they're showing a legitimate, reasonable response to people who clearly don't respect them and merely want to deceive and manipulate them.

I might add that, when I worked at that hospital, my primary responsibility was caring for kids with leukemia. The treatments for it are utterly horrible. Within a few weeks the children look like survivors of some gosh-awful concentration camp. And yet we never had parents refuse that treatment. That was because we were honest with them, treated them with respect, and didn't conceal all the complications that could develop. We also fought desperately hard to succeed and to give every child the best possible chance at life. I saw a major change in the induction treatment of leukemia discovered, debated, solved and the national protocol altered in three days. Three days!

In contrast, all too many in public health aren't honest. They don't treat these parents or the public with respect. They conceal the complications of vaccinations. They are indifferent to bad reactions to vaccinations because, "what the heck, it's better than the disease" at least in hospitalization costs. And parents and others have to scream for years to get the reactionaries who work in public health to make any changes.

--Michael W. Perry, author of My Nights with Leukemia: Caring for Children with Cancer

Dr. Franklyn said at February 16, 2015 6:42 AM:

"80% of americans think there should be mandatory labeling for foods that contain DNA." Ok Americans should know that all foods contain DNA in their cells...

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