Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I just don't know what to say anymore.

About four years ago (we're a month or so shy of exactly four years ago) I wrote a post dealing with a disturbing trend. Specifically, with the re-emergence of pertussis, also known as whooping cough. For the criminally ignorant, pertussis is a devastating disease that has been largely eradicated in the western world through the extensive use of vaccines. I say largely eradicated, however, because cases have been on the rise lately and not because pertussis has mutated into some deadly new strain. No, it's just that an increasingly large number of people are being stupid and not vaccinating their children.

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.

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Blogger newsocprof said...

I commented on one of your last posts on this, basically saying I think people are nuts to not vaccinate their children...

About three weeks ago, my daughter was diagnosed with autism (albeit a "mild" case -- don't even get me started on how broad the autism "spectrum" now appears to be). It's been intriguing to watch all of this from the inside -- no one has come out and suggested that we stop vaccinating but it appears to be at the margins of many intervention discussions (along with a gluten-free diet or some appallingly invasive mercury removal procedure). I also get it now -- we've spent the last three weeks trying to figure out why this is happening to us, if we are bad parents, etc. It would be nice to chalk it up to the MMR, but no such luck. People are grasping at straws and racked with guilt -- for those who don't know the science, this is an attractive to story to tell yourself.

We're thinking of joining a support group but I'm really worried about having to defend our decisions to continue vaccinating our daughter and our radical decision to continue to allow her to eat chicken nuggets.

Friday, August 22, 2008 11:23:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...

For what it's worth you have my sympathies on this discovery. Any sort of disorder in a child can be difficult to deal with, but something like this is probably the worst. On the plus side, however, you say it's a mild case and autism really does have a lot of range. I've worked with some ASD kids who are so high functioning you'd never know. Good behavioral interventions and motivated parents can make a big difference.

Best of luck and please let me know now and then how things are going! Whatever some people may think, I am definitely not an enemy to folks with ASD or their family.

Friday, August 22, 2008 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Cerus said...

I have read your blog for a long time beginning with a link from Tara to your site.
As a sociology grad student interested in Medical Sociology, I am interested in the varying responses by parents of children of ASD and what may be a driving force for such dramatic response.

An obvious impact is the jump in measles cases within the last couple of years, which is more than likely just the tip of the iceberg given the situation in Europe.

My perception, and this involves some research before I would say there is a good connection, is that the parents that are most strongly anti-vaccination seem to be more strongly focused on their kids and the impact on their family than on what the impact would be on the general society.

Possible support of this comes from parents that state they will not vaccinate because they will use herd immunity for their benefit but have no regard for what will happen if the immunity level drops far enough to allow for major epidemics to come roaring back. Again, this is anecdotal right now but would be interesting to study.

Great blog by the way, I wish more sociologists had blogs.

Friday, August 22, 2008 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger newsocprof said...

Thanks, Drek. I know you're no enemy, I was just commenting on the view from the other side. I haven't decided whether or not to blog this but I'll keep you posted.

Cerus, I'd say your hypothesis is right. Bottom line, especially now, I only care about my kid and if I thought there was any chance not vaccinating her would help, I wouldn't -- the rest of the world be damned. My decision to continue vaccinating her is totally based on evidence suggesting it wouldn't help, not on any concern about the rest of the population.

The other possibility is that the no-vaccination people experience the most devastating cases and get the most attention (and have the biggest presence on the web). I'm thinking here of the regression-type of autism -- clinicians didn't believe it at first (because it was based on parent reports) but now they have studies using before-after video of kids who "lost" verbal ability and social skills. It appears to affect a minority of autistic kids and usually happens around 17-19 months (MMR is at 18 months). Measles seems a far-away and unlikely possibility when your previously happy kid is now mute.

Friday, August 22, 2008 1:52:00 PM  
Blogger Cerus said...

I'm not saying that focusing on your child and family is bad and if I came across with that message the first time around, I apologize.

We still have a lot to learn about disease and humans are largely ill equipped to understand those things we can only see on the macro level where the disorder expresses itself after a series of events we failed to notice. This means that you are probably right, the most vocal and visible of those affected might be the families that have children that exhibit regression-style autism and vaccinations fit well on the timeline of events. This is a topic I am interested in and I will have to do much more research.

Thank you for the input, I really appreciate different perspectives.

The best to you and your family.

Friday, August 22, 2008 3:13:00 PM  
Blogger Mister Troll said...

Nice point about the yoghurt. I will remember that.

Non-vaxxers threaten my blood pressure. Their inaction threatens my children. Thankfully I haven't met them IRL; I'm ready to give them a blistering piece of my mind.

(The kids, of course, are and will continue to be fully vaccinated. But vaccination doesn't provide perfect or permanent protection.)

Saturday, August 23, 2008 7:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I don't understand about your entry because I'm in engineering field. But for me just for info to our health.

Sunday, August 24, 2008 2:56:00 AM  

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