Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Word of the Day: VACCINATION

A vaccine is defined as "a substance used to stimulate the production of antibodies and provide immunity against one or several diseases, prepared from the causative agent of a disease, its products, or a synthetic substitute, treated to act as an antigen without inducing the disease".  The intention of vaccines is a good one.  The effectiveness of vaccines, when addressing formerly epidemic diseases has been proven.  Dr. Mary Glodé, professor of pediatrics at Denver's University of Colorado notes, "Immunizations are simply one of the greatest public-health achievements."

For some, however, proof is irrelevant.  For example, the link between vaccines and autism, with vaccines being touted as responsible for a rise in autism cases, is not scientifically sound.  The anti-vaccination movement in the United States -- its followers referred to as "anti-vaxxers" -- has gained considerable traction in the last few years.  People sometimes put chains on their vehicle's wheels for traction in the snow.  The anti-vaccination movement is not gaining traction from chains, of course, but rather from fear.

Let me assert here that being fearful of anything that can hurt is normal, as long as the fear does not overwhelm your thinking.  Not wanting anything to happen to your or your loved ones is perfectly normal, but when the flames of fear are being fanned, the result is a lack of clear thinking.  Rumors are like the trees in a drought-ridden forest on which that the flames of fear can spread all too easily.

Fear: Vaccines cause autism and mental illness.
Fact: Vaccines are necessary for the well-being of society in general.

Another fact is that people can have bad reactions to vaccinations (i.e. sore arm, fever), but that falls into the category of weighing the risks involved.  Let us look at some ratios from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
Downside from not getting vaccinated
1 in 20 -- the death rate from diphtheria or tetanus
1 in 1,500 -- the death rate from pertussis
1 in 2,000 -- the death rate from measles
Downside from getting vaccinated
1 in 14,000 -- the number of people who will have seizures or seizure-like symptoms
1 in 30,000 -- the number of people who will have a temporary reduction of blood platelets
11 in 1,000,000 -- the number of people who will have acute brain swelling

There is also concern about thimerosal, that has been added to vaccines.  It was used as a preservative in vaccines, since fatal incidents from contaminated vaccines occurred ninety years ago.  It contains a mercury compound, ethyl mercury -- not methyl mercury found in certain fish which infants should not eat -- and was determined in the late 1990's to be removed or reduced in amount from vaccines for children under the age of six.  Since then, vaccines have been distributed in single-dose vials, not in multi-dose vials, as they used to be.

While a drop in cases of autism would be expected from the process of removing thimerosal from more and more from vaccines progressed in the 1990's, but the upward trend in autism cases continued to increase in spite of that reduction.  See the chart below:
 © Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

From 2000-2002, the number of cases remained relatively the same, 1 in 150.
From 2002-2004, the number of cases increased to 1 in 125.
From 2004-2006, the number of cases increased to 1 in 100.
From 2006-2008, the number of cases increased to 1 in 88.
From 2008-2010, the number of cases increased to 1 in 68.
The frequency of cases of autism in the United States has been steadily increasing while the presence of thimerosal in vaccines has been reduced. 

Do those who are anti-vaccination cite these and similar statistics?  No.  Why?  These statistics are not conducive of spreading fear and irrational behavior.

The name Roald Dahl may or may not ring a bell for you.  He was the British author of several books (some of which have been translated to the big screen) including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Matilda, and Boy: Tales of Childhood.  In 1962, Dahl's eldest daughter, Olivia, died from measles encephalitis at the age of seven.  Her nickname was "Twenty", but only lived roughly one-third of that in years.

In 1988, Dahl wrote in a pamphlet distributed by England's Sandwell Health Authority, in which he implored readers to get their children vaccinated.  Below is the full text of what he wrote:
            Measles: A Dangerous Illness

            Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old.  As the

            illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not
            feeling particularly alarmed about it.

            Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on

            her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners,
            and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and
            her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.

            “Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.

            “I feel all sleepy,” she said.

             In an hour, she was unconscious.  In 12 hours she was dead.

            The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and

            there was nothing the doctors could do to save her.  That was 24 years ago in
            1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly
            reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors
            could do to help her.

            On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that

            this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs.  They can insist that their
            child is immunised against measles.  I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962
            because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered.  Today
            a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to
            ask your doctor to administer it.

            It is not yet generally accepted that measles can be a dangerous illness.  Believe

            me, it is.  In my opinion parents who now refuse to have their children immunised
            are putting the lives of those children at risk.  In America, where measles
            immunisation is compulsory, measles like smallpox, has been virtually wiped out.

            Here in Britain, because so many parents refuse, either out of obstinacy or

            ignorance or fear, to allow their children to be immunised, we still have a hundred
            thousand cases of measles every year.  Out of those, more than 10,000 will suffer
            side effects of one kind or another.  At least 10,000 will develop ear or chest
            infections. About 20 will die.

            LET THAT SINK IN.

            Every year around 20 children will die in Britain from measles.

            So what about the risks that your children will run from being immunised?

            They are almost non-existent.  Listen to this.  In a district of around 300,000

            people, there will be only one child every 250 years who will develop serious side
            effects from measles immunisation!  That is about a million to one chance.  I
            should think there would be more chance of your child choking to death on a
            chocolate bar than of becoming seriously ill from a measles immunisation.

            So what on earth are you worrying about?  It really is almost a crime to allow your

            child to go unimmunised.

            The ideal time to have it done is at 13 months, but it is never too late.  All school-

            children who have not yet had a measles immunisation should beg their parents to
            arrange for them to have one as soon as possible.

            Incidentally, I dedicated two of my books to Olivia, the first was ‘James and the

            Giant Peach’.  That was when she was still alive.  The second was ‘The BFG’,
            dedicated to her memory after she had died from measles.  You will see her name
            at the beginning of each of these books.  And I know how happy she would be if
            only she could know that her death had helped to save a good deal of illness and
            death among other children.

We have a history of battling diseases and finding ways to slow many of them down or to practically eradicate them through research.  The administration of vaccines prevents the spread of those diseases. The image below will take you to a timeline of diseases and their cures and vaccinations.  It starts with measles, but there are links above the chart for other diseases, including diphtheria, polio, smallpox. and yellow fever.
Fifteen years ago, measles had been stopped from widespread transmission; it wasn't the endemic disease it had been.  This is not to say that there are no longer any cases of measles, just not as widespread.  Keep in mind that measles is highly contagious.  Look at the graph below.

As of this posting, there are just over 100 cases of measles across fourteen U.S. states.  Compare that to the number of measles cases for all of last year, almost 650, and you might say it's no big deal.  The current 100+ cases shown on the above chart is for the month of January alone.  If you take 2014's numbers and average them out, it would come out to roughly fifty-four cases per month.  Take January's numbers and extrapolate them out, and 2015 is on track for a yearly total of 1,200 cases of measles.

That would be almost twice the number of cases than last year.

The debate that is going on now about whether or not parents should get their kids vaccinated is manufactured.  There is nothing linking vaccinations to autism, metal illness, or anything else that is being purported in the media.  It is not a political issue, as it is being made out to be.  It is a public health issue, plain and simple.  There is no debate.

What about parents who don't want their kids to get infected from unvaccinated children who contract measles?  To that, I have one question: Can you blame them?  I cannot.  Not to mention that measles can be lethal.  And what about the parents who choose to not get their kids vaccinated?  It is a case of being not only neglectful of their own children, but also societally irresponsible.  Their argument that they're not responsible for raising and taking care of other people's children is hollow.  

It is selfish.  It is irresponsible.  It is putting individuality above community.  It is separatist.  It is a denial that all members of a society are responsible to them themselves and that community at large.  Combine that mindset with a mindset of fear, manufactured fear, and advances proven to have made a large benefit to a society become ignored and denied.

That is exactly how the current outbreak of measles in the United States has taken hold.


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