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, October 23, 2009

There is really no response to this other than a scream of incoherent frustration.

I'm a big fan of vaccines. You all know this. The reason why I'm a big fan is that they are an extremely cheap, extremely effective way of protecting people from disease. Moreover, they're an extremely "natural" way to do it- after all, your body develops immunity by being exposed to a pathogen and vaccines work by exploiting this process. The only thing that differs is that the pathogen in the vaccine is vastly less potent that the wild organism and, therefore, much safer to be exposed to. In contrast, getting treated with antibiotics or antivirals after infection is most certainly not "natural" and comes with a wider array of issues and side-effects. So, hey, vaccines are awesome.

There's another reason vaccines are awesome, however: herd immunity. When enough people receive vaccinations pathogens have a hard time spreading and this protects even the unvaccinated in a population. And I don't mean those who choose not to get vaccines because they're idiots, I mean those who are too young (i.e. infants), those who are too old, or those who have compromised immune systems (e.g. people undergoing chemotherapy). Herd immunity is thus a public good that protects not only the vaccinated, but our neighbors, friends, and loved ones who- through no fault of their own- cannot be vaccinated and therefore must go through life at risk from pathogens that the rest of us can be protected from.

I was thinking about this recently as a result of an article on Slate where a woman discusses the hardships of finding daycare for her son, who is undergoing treatment for leukemia:

Last year, while searching for child care for our 2-and-a-half-year-old son, my husband and I thought we had we found the perfect arrangement: an experienced home day care provider whose house was an inviting den of toddler industriousness. Under her magical hand, children drifted calmly and happily from the bubble station to the fairy garden to the bunnies and the trucks, an orchestrated preschool utopia. But when I asked: "Are any of the children here unvaccinated?" the hope of my son's perfect day care experience burnt to a little crisp. As it turned out, one child had a philosophical or religious exemption—a convenient, cover-all exemption that many doctors grant, no questions asked, when a parent requests one. (I still do not understand how the state can allow one to attribute his or her fear of vaccines and their unproven dangers to religion or philosophy. But that's a question for another day.)

Ordinarily I wouldn't question others' parenting choices. But the problem is literally one of live or don't live. While that parent chose not to vaccinate her child for what she likely considers well-founded reasons, she is putting other children at risk. In this instance, the child at risk was my son. He has leukemia.

What does any of this have to do with vaccinations? While the purpose of chemotherapy is to kill the cancer, it also kills the good cells—most notably the infection-fighting white blood cells. That means my son has limited ability to fight off anything. A single unimmunized child in an ordinary child care setting is the equivalent of a toddler time bomb to him.


For now, we will hire an at-home sitter for him. It's more expensive and not what we had wanted, but it's the best, safest option. When he is ready to go off to school, we will have to face this issue again: Public schools are forced to enroll unvaccinated children who have religious or philosophical exemptions—again, whatever that means. Because we want him to have as "normal" a life as possible, we'll likely send him off in the bright yellow school bus and cross our fingers that the kid sitting next to him didn't just attend a "chicken pox party" over the weekend. Because what's "just a case of chicken pox" for that kid could be a matter of life or death for mine.

It's a moving article and worth a read, but nothing particularly out of the ordinary. It raises an important point, explains it well, and makes very clear the risks that anti-vaxxers force the rest of us to take. But it didn't really strike me as chilling until I ran across this little note on craigslist:

Or, in plain text:

Chicken Pox Party (Spokane)

I am trying to put together a chicken pox party and am looking for someone to donate their chickenpox to the event.
I was thinking of having it at McDonald or some place with toys to play on.
if you know anyone who would like to contribute or would like more information on a time and place let me know.

Location: Spokane
it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests [Bolding original, underlining added]

So, we have someone trying to put together a chicken pox party- the very thing that the author on Slate was afraid of- as an alternative to vaccination. Great, fine, I think it's a bad idea, the science says it's a bad idea, but I can't really dictate someone else's choices to them. But that being the case, they're proposing to have it in a public f-ing setting that expressly includes "toys to play on." So, in other words, they're putting other adults and children at risk of an illness that can and does cause serious disease and seem to be doing so without any concern at all. Were they planning on telling anyone about this? Perhaps posting signs at the play area that a pox party was in progress? I doubt it, because I doubt any McDonalds manager would be too keen on hosting such an event. So, instead, we just get a nice, quiet group of anti-vaxxers who exercise their right to not be exposed to safe, effective medical treatment by exposing the rest of us to dangerous pathogens. And do you want to know what the funniest part of the whole thing is? That bit at the end of the post that says "it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests". Yeah, absolutely, it would be a travesty if this poster got tagged with a little spam while planning to spread a dangerous infection in a public place!

There's selfish, there's really selfish, and then there's this. And I honestly can't feel anything but helpless frustration in response. Maybe one of you can do better.

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Blogger JLT said...

I can't understand these people. Chicken pox infections can lead to severe complications, e.g. encephalitis, and if a pregnant woman gets infected, it can lead to an abortion or malformation of the child. Why would anyone get infected by it on purpose? Why would anyone who is infected risk to infect others?
Those people are afraid of some highly unlikely side effects of the vaccine (which in the real world are mostly swelling and pain at the site of injection and maybe fever = all signs of an ongoing immune reaction that is necessary to develop immunity), but OTOH they want their kids to actually get a disease that can be even deadly in rare cases?
At the very least they are at a high risk of getting shingles (Herpes zoster) later in life, which is no fun (up to 30 % of those who had a chicken pox infection as a kid will get shingles later in life).

But don't get me started. I'm a working scientist and my speciality is transplantation immunology. Although I'm not directly involved in anything related to vaccines or vaccination, it still makes my blood boil whenever I read about anti-vaccine idiots. Vaccinations saved more lifes than any other medical invention of the last 200 years.

[snip endless rant about anti-vaccine idiocy]

Uh, sorry. Got a bit agitated there. I'll now return to leaving grammatically questionable comments at your Left Behind posts.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009 1:45:00 PM  

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