Columns / Discourse / February 13, 2013

An ounce of prevention: the importance of vaccines

Last week, on far ends on the planet, two curious events occurred.

In Nigeria, nine women were killed by terrorists in the course of their duties trying to vaccinate children against polio.

In the United States, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial entitled “Rolling Back the War on Vaccines” detailing falling vaccination rates throughout the U.S. and Western Europe.

Why is this? Are American parents being threatened by radical Islamists if they take their kids to the doctor like their counterparts in Nigeria?

No, we have no need of terrorists to stop us from vaccinating our children. We are perfectly capable of inflicting that upon ourselves, thank you very much.

Nervous American parents, generally college-educated, middle-class and acting with the best of intentions, have been opting out of getting their children their required vaccinations are ever-increasing rates.

Washington is actually leading the country in opt-out rates, whereas Tennessee and Alabama are near the bottom. That the South is leading the country in a public health indicator is should be a tip-off that something odd is going on.

At the root of this trend is a mish-mash of discredited conspiracy theories involving Big Pharma and their willing accomplices in government and in medicine hiding or distorting the negative impact common vaccinations have on children’s health. Central to this is the idea that vaccines are the cause of autism.

Let’s make one thing extremely clear before going any further: there is no link between autism and vaccines and there never has been. The theory stems from a 1998 article published in a British medical journal which was later retracted because of numerous ethics violations on the part of the researcher. A study of some 12,000 (!) peer-reviewed articles published since the nineties on the topic failed to find any correlation between autism and vaccines. Another study of literally every child born in Denmark for seven years also failed to find any connection.

It has become so discredited at this point that most leading scientific organizations have concluded further studies on the topic are a waste of scarce research dollars. Yet the idea stubbornly hangs on and retains enough credibility that Congress held a hearing on the topic not too long ago that can really only be described as a national embarrassment.

The anti-vaccine crowd used to hold that thimerosal, an additive, had triggered the rise in autism rates. After it was eliminated in 2001 without the slightest effect on autism rates, the antivaxxers deftly changed course and asserted that the problem is actually that  vaccines trigger a genetic cellular disorder in some children. It is surprising that they didn’t get whiplash after how quickly they shifted positions.

It reminds one of the apocyrpochal story of the Marxist talking to a his capitalist friend who says, “Yes, yes, your ideas may be working very well in practice. But how well do they work in theory?” Empirical evidence and the anti-vaccine movement seldom come into contact.

Maintaining that the moon landing was faked or that the CIA killed JFK may be absurd, but people who hold such views are hardly endangering others. Entertaining conspiracy theories about vaccines, though, is another story.

Refusing to vaccinate your child is a profoundly selfish act because of the populations you are harming. Who, after all, relies on society’s herd immunity? Newborns, children with serious medical conditions such as leukemia who cannot handle vaccinations, organ transplant patients on immuno-suppresents, and those in whom vaccines simply fail to work are some of the main affected categories.

A society that is willing to endanger the lives of children with leukemia because of something they read of the internet is a society that has some soul-searching to do. Diseases that were once virtually eradicated, such as whooping cough and measles, have been making comebacks in the industrialized world because of the breakdown in herd immunity and children are dying needlessly because of it.

If your life is threatened by terrorists for getting your child vaccinated, you may be better off not getting the shot. If that is not the case, though, you have no excuse.

Matt Barry
Matt Barry is a senior majoring in international relations and double minoring in economics and German. This is his third year working for TKS, having served previously as discourse editor. He has worked for such organizations as the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Premier Tourism Marketing and the Council on American Islamic Relations-Chicago, where his work appeared in such publications as Leisure Group Travel, Ski & Ride Club Guide and The Chicago Monitor. Matt has written his political opinion column, "The Voice of Reason," weekly for three years, which finished in first place at the 2012 Illinois College Press Association conference and was also recognized at the 2013 conference.

Tags:  American health Marxist Nigeria shot terrorist transplant vaccine victim

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