Skip to comments.As Diseases Make Comeback, Why Aren't All Kids Vaccinated?
Posted on 07/31/2008 7:22:31 AM PDT by yankeedame
The measles, whooping cough and even polio have returned. Why? Because of a new breed of vaccine deniers who are ignoring campaigns for awareness, and ultimately might live shorternot longerlives.
By Glenn Harlan Reynolds
Illustration by Koren Shadmi
Published in the August 2008 issue.
Progress is easy to take for granted. When I was a child in the 60s, polio was history, measles was on the way out, and diphtheria and whooping cough were maladies out of old movies. Now these contagious diseases are making a comeback.
Take measles, for instance. The disease used to infect 3 to 4 million Americans per year, hospitalizing nearly 50,000 people and causing 400 to 500 deaths. In 2000 a panel of experts convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proclaimed that measles transmission had been eradicated in the United States, except for imported cases.
But that caveat is important.
An unvaccinated 7-year-old from San Diego became infected with measles while traveling with his family in Switzerland and ended up transmitting the disease back home to two siblings, five schoolmates and four other children at his doctors officeall of them unvaccinated.
Whooping cough has also seen a resurgence: A school in the East Bay area near San Francisco was closed recently when some 16 students fell ill.
The reason for these incidentsand for recent outbreaks of poliois that the percentage of parents vaccinating their children has fallen, perhaps because some parents see no point in warding off diseases theyve never encountered.
Religious or new-age beliefs may also factor into the decision: The San Diego outbreak spread in a school where nearly 10 percent of the students had been given personal-belief exemptions from the vaccination requirement. The East Bay outbreak started at a school that emphasizes nature-based therapy over mainstream medicine; fewer than half of the students were vaccinated.
Why would parents refuse to vaccinate their children against dangerous diseases? Many are skeptical of modern science and medicine in general. (And it is true that most vaccines carry exceedingly tinybut realrisks of serious illness or even death.) But I think most are responding to the widespread belief that vaccines are linked to autism.
Recent studies have soundly disspelled that notion.
And a simple glance at health statistics shows that autism cases continued to rise even after thimerosal, the mercury-based preservative widely blamed for the supposed autism link, was largely phased out of U.S. vaccines by 2001.
Nevertheless, these unsubstantiated fears have led some people to say that getting vaccinated should be a matter of individual choice: If you want to be protected, just get yourself and your children vaccinated.
Only its not that easy.
While the measles vaccine protects virtually everyone who is inoculated, not all vaccines have the same rate of success. But even if a vaccine is effective for only 70, 80 or 90 percent of those who take it, the other 30, 20 or 10 percent who dont get the full benefit of the vaccine are usually still not at risk.
Thats because most of the people around the partially protected are immune, so the disease cant sustain transmission long enough to spread.
But when people decide to forgo vaccination, they threaten the entire system. They increase their own risk and the risk of those in the community, including babies too young to be vaccinated and people with immune systems impaired by disease or chemotherapy.
They are also free-riding on the willingness of others to get vaccinated, which makes a decision to avoid vaccines out of fear or personal belief a lot safer.
Of course it is the very success of modern vaccines that makes this complacency possible. In previous generations, when epidemic disease swept through schools and neighborhoods, it was easy to persuade parents that the small risks associated with vaccination were worth it.
When those epidemics stoppedbecause of widespread vaccinationsit became easy to forget that we still live in a dangerous world. It happens all the time:
University of Tennessee law professor Gregory Stein examined the relation between building codes and accidents since the infamous 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York and discovered a pattern: accident followed by a period of tightened regulations, followed by a gradual slackening of oversight until the next accident. It often takes a dramatic event to focus our minds.
The problem is that modern society requires constant, not episodic, attention to keep it running. In his book "The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death 17002100" Nobel Prizewinning historian Robert Fogel notes the incredible improvement in the lives of ordinary people since 1700 as a result of modern sanitation, agriculture and public health.
It takes steady work to keep water clean, prevent the spread of contagious disease and ensure an adequate food supply. As long as things go well, theres a tendency to take these conditions for granted and treat them as a given.
But theyre not: As Fogel notes, they represent a dramatic departure from the normal state of human existence over history, in which people typically lived nasty, sickly and short lives.
This departure didnt happen on its own, and things dont stay better on their own. Keeping a society functioning requires a lot of behind-the-scenes work by people who dont usually get a lot of attentionsanitation engineers, utility linemen, public health nurses, farmers, agricultural chemists and so on. Because the efforts of these workers are often undramatic, they are underappreciated and frequently underfunded.
Politicians like to cut ribbons on new bridges or schools, but theres no fanfare for the everyday maintenance that keeps the bridges standing and the schools working. As a result, critical parts of society are quietly decaying, victims of complacency or of active neglect....Its not just vaccinations or bridges, either....
What do we do about this? To some degree, we have to do what the reformers of the 19th and early 20th centuries did: Hector people about the importance of paying attention to our societys upkeep.
Alas, our main allies in persuasion will probably be the epidemics and other disasters that take place when too few pay attention. Sometimes, people have to trip and fall to be reminded that its important to watch their step.
Stand by for a load of mindless anti vaccine drivel and pseudo science that is headed your way.
There are so many conspiracy theorists who think such treatments cause other problems and scream anytime anyone mentions such things. I don’t know if you can elect to have your children immunized but I’d do it.
I’ll start: Fear of autism.
A site to consider
The problem is not Mexicans. The problem is liberal trust-funders who consider immunization declasse. The last two measles outbreaks were caused by globe-trotting upper-middle-class couples who took their unimmunized children places where there were active measles. And these were places like Switzerland — not Swaziland.
As much merit as Glenn Reynolds point has, the pharmaceutical companies also have to be held liable for their lobbying of politicians to stack vaccine requirements onto children that aren’t needed.
Yup. That's longterm. I guess some parents feel it better for their kids to die of diphtheria or polio. At least that way the problem is over fast.
When I had to take my children back to the doctor to get vaccinated for three more viruses, I asked why they added them. The doctor said too many immigrants from Mexico were bringing in old diseases that needed to be stopped. I said spefically Mexico and he said yes, that is what the memo from the CDC said.
Maybe we could get the ‘evil rich’ to pay the Federal excise taxes on poor peoples’ vaccinations?
A friend of mine whose kids aren’t immunized says that their doc advised them to get the shots if they go to third world countries. I posed the question: What about Disneyland/World?
You are talking about vaccines that were already in place, this is talking about new ones added due to newly increased numbers of things like Hepatitus (sp), TB, and one other I can’t think of.
Oh yeah, and that Chicken Pox vaccine. I scoffed at that one, but my daughter had the vaccine and still had an outbreak that almost put her in the hospital. They told me if she hadn’t have had the vaccine, she would might have died. She was the type case the vaccine was made for. As bad as it was, the pox only lasted four days instead of the usual 7 to 10. So in that case it helped.
I have in-laws who didn’t vaccinate their kids, figuring they didn’t need to vaccinate since they home school. They ended up with a houseful of Whooping Cough (pertussis).
The component of the measles vaccine that was blamed for autism has been removed from the vaccine. Next?
“Chicken Pox vaccine. I scoffed at that one, but my daughter had the vaccine and still had an outbreak that almost put her in the hospital. They told me if she hadnt have had the vaccine, she would might have died...”
If you believe that line, your naive.
because we have allowed ourselves to turn into a third-world country with an influx of mexicans and those from south of the border...we are having a big problem here in DFW because of foul water in swimming pools...it is getting worse...proportional to the influx of mexicans
You might think I am niave, but I know how bad she had it.
So you are saying people don’t die from Chicken Pox? I really would have hated to see how bad it would have been without the vaccine.
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