By Richard E. Bleil, Ph.D.
Let’s get this out of the way. I support parental choice. (Yes, this blog will touch on the vaccine debate.) And to be completely open and honest, I don’t really have a “pony in the race”. I’m single, have no children, and the odds of my actually having children at this point in my life range from slim all the way to none.
But I reserve the right to worry.
I have friends who have children that have not been vaccinated. Some are by choice, and, yes, I have friends whose children have compromised systems and therefore cannot be vaccinated. And I worry about them.
But, let’s be real here. I don’t worry about them so much now that they are young, as I worry for their future. The part of the discussion that seems to have been left out is how much worse these “childhood diseases” are for adults then they are for children. I had the measles myself, and the worst that I have to show for it is a scar on my jawline. I do, however, remember having the mumps, and along with that memory is my father leaving to stay in a motel because he never had them. Mumps in adults have an increased risk of causing deafness, sterility, meningitis, mastitis, pancreatitis, meningitis and more.
The decision of whether or not to inoculate is a lifelong decision. Admittedly, adults can elect to be inoculated later although they are likely to have the opinions of their parents strongly instilled in them). More than that, though, it is a decision that aaffectsothers in our society as demonstrated by the current measles outbreak in Washington and Oregon. This is why I worry eeventhough I would not tell anybody what they must decide for their children.
What does concern me, however, is what seems to be a steady stream of misinformation coming from the anti-vax movement, and how well organized it has become. Of late, I have taken to “commenting” on misleading memes with references debunking the statements. I have no doubt that this is coming off as passive aggressive, or snobbish, but this is no my intention. In fact, I see these posts as attempts to recruit, not necessarily by my friends to are reposting them, but by the “holistic medicine” movement. My friends are reposting, I’m sure, out of concern (and hopefully not to justify their decisions, as the decision is theirs to make), but the sources of those memes are what worries me.
When I was married, my sister-in-law fell for these things readily. They fed into her fears, and I believe lead to the beginning of agoraphobia.
This is what upsets me. And let’s be honest about this, it’s about money. Believe me when I say that I understand the sentiment against big pharma. The greed and immorality is obvious there, but it also exists in the holistic and “organic foods” movement.
My friend periodically posts a meme that says “If there is a ‘health food’ section in the grocery store, what does that say about the food in the rest of the store?” My answer, invariably, is that it says the rest of the food is affordable. I’m not saying that the “holistic movement” is entirely bad. After all, it has shifted focus in our society from quick and easy to health, and forced us, all of us, to look at our diets and be more conscientious in our personal choices. But it takes but a moment to look at the “supplemental” isle to realize the extent of supplements, and to recognize the cost. A well-known celebrity has started a company to sell these “alternative health” items, and many of the products by that company have not only been proven to be ineffective, but some are actually harmful. With regulations lacking in this area, fear mongering sales tactics and high prices, these “health advocates” are little more than high tech snake oil salespersons.
Some of the advocates against vaccinations are actually quite well-educated, and intelligent enough to recognize the potential of a lucrative business venture. One of these individuals, a renowned surgeon, took on a regular spot on a popular talk show to trade in fear. Anybody watching his routine should recognize the products he is pushing alongside the over exaggerated claims of danger, and to view it as an old west snake oil show, it almost becomes comical. Unfortunately, too many people are listening to him, and living in fear as a result.
If you want to live a healthy life, more power to you. If you choose to avoid inoculations for your children, I respectfully disagree (and will fear for your children) but support that as your right. But we must stop spreading misinformation. This is a dangerous practice, and is often couched in willful ignorance. One reply to my comment was a statement that there is a plethora of studies showing that vaccinations don’t work, but “almost none” proving that they do. In fact, vaccines have been around since the end of the eighteenth century, and along with irrefutable evidence of their effectiveness by the dramatic decrease or elimination of plague viruses, there are thousands of studies that have been published and tested in peer-reviewed journals.
The current “publications” on how dangerous they can be are reminiscent of the old tobacco studies, where the tobacco industry boasted “unbiased” studies showing no link between cigarette smoking and harmful side effects, rivaling the frequency of publications of peer reviewed articles showing evidence of the link. Their “evidence” is usually anecdotal, the reports are rarely peer reviewed or of statistically significant relevance, and is almost always presented with products to buy instead. What’s worse, some of these claims have been linked to a foreign country in an effort to spread misinformation to the American people.
Make your decision on how you wish your family to live, but let’s stop doing the work of the snake oil salespersons for them.