Friday, October 24, 2008

Taking the cure

I got a flu shot this week. Mostly because I went to town with my parents, and they believe it is vital. I never want to insult them, but I don't expect them to be so familiar with the science and epidemiology associated with flu epidemics and the theory behind public immunization.

Some people are very sensitive about this issue. I discovered, inadvertently, that our next-door neighbor does not get immunization for his children. They school the children at home,too, so they avoid problems with public health bureaucracy.  Medical studies have resolved this issue, but people still have doubts.

I am afraid I touched on sensitive feelings, spouting off about immunization and the irresponsible parents who fail to participate in public immunization programs.  He came back on the defensive. with some arguments about mercury and autism, and I was taken aback, because it surprised me to realize that he was one of the parents I was talking about.

Suffice it to say that not all who hold their children out of immunization are ignorant simpletons.  There are real issues of concern about immunization safety and problems that may result as side-effects of the vaccine.  Parents are responsible for making this decision about whether or not the children will be exposed to the risk of disease form the shots, or from childhood disease. The threat of widespread epidemic is so much reduced by public immunization, there may be a higher risk for isolated individuals who participate than those who don't.

On the other hand, I understand that some of the reduced risk factor depends on large populations being vaccinated.  Those who don't participate are protected from disease by those around them, who are vaccinated. They benefit from the risk-taking that others are exposed to. That doesn't necessarily paint a very complementary picture of the non-participants. We have to weigh in the realization that in reality, there are no non-participants, and the immunized children protect the others from disease.

I am concerned, too, that today's younger parents do not have the perspective of knowing first-hand the horrifying death and devastating disease that swept through the population, striking so many at random. They have never seen someone with misshapen limbs twisted by childhood polio, for example, or seen their friend locked in an iron lung, struggling just for a free breath. They don't realize what an amazingly effective job public immunization has done of eliminating childhood diseases from our population.

I witness, somewhat bemused at the huge public outrage against Chinese baby milk, contaminated with melamine, and imagine the millions who would have been wiped out without a chance, but for widespread immunizations that have made so many public epidemics a thing of the past -- perhaps a past forgotten too soon. I hope we don't have to re-learn the lessons of epidemics and scourges long-past. Our ancestors paid far too dearly to learn that lesson the first time.

In a long-past time, I remember all the children at the grade school, lining up at the school cafeteria for their shots. I recall how frightened I was at the time. No one bothered to explain to us about the horrible disease they were fighting. At the time, we only knew that the syringe was painful and threatening. Some of the children were sobbing in fear before the vaccine was even injected. But most of us endured the fright, and were thus protected from childhood disease.


Jim Cobabe said...

Apparently there is a new vaccine for cervical cancer that is stirring a lot of controversy on this issue.

Billy Bob Bambino Bombabious Baby the Third said...

Yeah, the governor of Texas was promoting the vaccine to be given to women in an effort to eradicate this disease in Texas or something... Then it turned out that his daughter was a major stock owner in the company who manufactured the vaccine. The issue died on the vine.

On a different but related thread, at the Boy Scout camp last weekend some of the brethren that were there were expounding the merits of a conspiracy theory regarding WTC building 7. I think you have heard this theory - that the government is behind the collapse of the building and has gone to great lengths to cover it up... Then yesterday one of the guys that was a major proponent of these ideas was sustained as the bishop of the adjacent ward...

Why do people believe conspiracy theories such as this? Why don't they look at the glaring questions and problems that such theories involve? Why do they have no problem equating our government with that of Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot? I was a little stunned. I mean, I have heard the inoculations ideas before. And I have heard rumblings about the buildings involved in the WTC disaster and the problems with the resulting reports. But this was the first time that seemingly normal people assumed such a vitriolic and surprising stance on such a far-fetched issue. I mean, we are talking about Gadianton Robbers here... Do you have any experience on this kind of thing? I am still pretty stunned...

B. Perky said...

Mecury in vaccines no longer exist so people will still have to look for other causes for Autism.

Vaccine for HPV to prevent cervical cancer is a hot button issue for me. They forget to say that HPV is an STD (wish we could go back to the more repugnant venereal disease") and is usually contracted by having sex with multiple partners.

Guess you always have to weigh risks versus benefits.

Jim Cobabe said...


I never discount secret conspiracies, but I can never figure out exactly what I am supposed to do about them.

Maybe vaccinations are part and parcel of some underhanded scheme to enslave the world, but I thing the underlying idea is incredibly nobe and pragmatic. The world of medicine spins wistfully about a "magic bullet" that can cure malaise. Widespread public vaccination has done so, in such a dramatic way as to be breathtaking in its immediate and practical effect. Virtually miraculous. Now somebody wants to co-opt the process for some nefarious purpose. I honestly do not know who to trust or believe.

Jim Cobabe said...


How interesting, that the controversy pulls in immorality as a major factor. That point is never mentioned in any of the news articles I have read.

Your point about risk-taking hits home on this issue. Life is indeed risky -- none will get out of it alive. Only a matter of time before the odds turn against us. Better be prepared.

Limasa Family said...

Ok, I'm just going to say that getting vaccinated is in my opinion the best thing, and I don't think people shouldn't get the HPV vaccine simply because people who get it have sex. And it's not only contracted by people who have sex with multiple partners, what if you waited til marriage but your spouse did not, and didn't realize they had it, then you have an STD from having sex with only one partner, your husband.

I say go vaccines! I don't want to experience the bubonic plague the second time around thanks!

Jim Cobabe said...


I too am amazed that people are so mistrustful of being vaccinated. As far as I can tell, the doctors who promote the stuff have no selfish motives -- they just want to help people. Wouldn't it be great if things like this were provided free of charges? I suppose then the people would have less doubt about the whole thing.

Limasa Family said...

Hopefully someday we'll all have great medical coverage in this country!