I just don't know what to say anymore.
When I wrote this post four years ago I more or less blamed this decreasing dedication to vaccination on two factors: complacency, because vaccines have worked so well we've forgotten how useful they are, and stupidity, because some factions of the population seem to think that scientific medicine is somehow bad and unnatural. Oddly, there's little unnatural about vaccines which actually help your immune system defend you more effectively against aggressive organisms. So, really, vaccines are somewhat similar to that probiotic crap everyone is so crazy over except the vaccines are vastly more effective. If yogurt infested with bacteria that help you crap is "natural" why the hell not a shot containing dead critters to keep their live buddies from making your life hell? But I digress. Back in 2004 I also got a little cranky with some news agencies for not appropriately flogging these folks, although at least one of them got a little more with-it over time.
Since then my occasional co-bloggers have covered other vaccine news and I have generally kept my eye on the anti-vaccine situation. In doing so I have come to realize that there are whole groups of people who make their money by telling others that vaccines are bad and cause things like autism.* I talked about this issue again in March of this year and was castigated for my treatment of it. This annoyed me enough that I did something that I now refer to privately as "the nasty," for which I and this blog received props from none other than Tara Smith of Aetiology. So, it's safe to say that I have been concerned about vaccines for quite a while and have put some real energy into the situation.
As such, you can imagine my reaction when my wife told me about the following NPR story she heard while I was walking the dog. And if you guessed it was about vaccines... well... then you are at least minimally competent at reading comprehension:
About a decade ago, health officials declared an "end" to measles in the United States. But now, that has changed: 131 cases of measles have been reported so far this year, more than three times the number in 2007.
Either way, [Viral Disease Expert Dr. Jane] Seward says, the virus is increasingly finding its way to vulnerable unvaccinated populations — "mainly children whose parents have chosen not to vaccinate."
"A high proportion of those children are home-schooled. In Illinois, pretty much all of the new cases of measles were among home-schooled children — and none of them were vaccinated," she says.
Parents cite reasons like philosophical objections — which typically boil down to fears of side effects, including the development of autism.
But Dr. William Schaffner, who chairs the department of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, says there's absolutely no scientific evidence to back that up.
"The measles, German measles and mumps vaccine, or MMR as we call it, has been given in literally billions of doses worldwide with extraordinary safety," Schaffner says.
At the same time, Schaffner says many of those parents who opt not to vaccinate should remember that measles is a devastating disease.
"Before the measles vaccine in this country, there were 400 deaths of U.S. children each year caused by measles," he says. "Measles carries serious complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis, which is a life-threatening inflammation of the brain tissue that can be caused by viral infections such as measles. Measles is a serious illness. To be cavalier and not vaccinate shocks someone like me, who has seen the devastating effects of this disease."
And if children are not vaccinated and they contract measles, they are not the only ones at risk, Schaffner says. They can put other vulnerable children at risk, too.
Do we need to talk about measles again for crying out loud? Do we need to talk about complications, like corneal scarring? Yes, boys and girls: measles can actually scar your child's eyes. Do we need to talk about how bad measles is for adults? People, vaccination is not an issue of individual choice. It is a public health issue much like not defecating in the streets. When we all cooperate, we all stay healthier. When a relatively small number of us defect, we get sicker, some of us get crippled, and some of us have to die.
I am really, really tired of having to read these stories. Seriously. Vaccines work. They are safe. And they're a helluva lot better than treating the full blown disorder.
Stop screwing around already.
* Which, I should note, they do NOT.