Inoculating You Against Anti-Vaxxers

WC’s parents were highly motivated to vaccinate their kids. WC’s cousin and playmate when they were both toddlers developed poliomyelitis. It was touch and go for Carole for a long while, but she eventually recovered about 90% of her pre-illness motor skills. She has since developed Post-Polio Syndrome.

When Carole got sick there were no vaccines for polio. The 35 weeks following our last contact with Carole were grim. When the Salk vaccine injections were available, WC’s folks had their kids at the front of the line. For good measure, we were given the Sabin oral vaccine as well, when it became available a little later on. Seeing your young cousin in metal leg braces and on crutches is incredibly effective motivation.

Pakistanii child displaying a deformity of her right lower extremity due to polio, photo courtesy of Center for Disease Control

Pakistanii child displaying a deformity of her right lower extremity due to polio, photo courtesy of Center for Disease Control

How soon we forget.

The childhood vaccine programs are a victim of their own success. The killer diseases and crippling diseases of the first half of the 20th century are largely eradicated. There are no longer summers when polio strikes kids down, killing and paralyzing them. As a result, parents seem to have lost the ability to properly assess the risks and benefits of vaccination.

And so we have an outbreak of measles in the United States, centered on Disneyland. Fantasyland, indeed. The vaccination for measles – MMR, or measles, mumps and rubella – is highly effective. The complication fatality rate from MMR vaccinations is less than 1 in a million. The fatality rate among children catching measles is about 1 in a thousand. Not getting the vaccination is about 1,000 times more dangerous than getting the vaccination. If you refuse to vaccinate your kid in the face of those kinds of numbers, you are seriously incapable of assessing risk.

But there is logical learning and then there is emotional learning. WC’s parents knew at the gut level just how important vaccinations were. They saw what happened in the absence of vaccination in their own extended family. At the “gut” level, they knew what to do. Because measles is largely but not completely eradicated in the United States, parents don’t know anyone whose kid has died from the complications of the disease. Just as they don’t know anyone whose kid was crippled by poliomyelitis. So the urgency WC’s parents felt is gone. Again, the vaccination programs are a victim of their own success. Sure, there is the logical learning, the risk assessment by the numbers, but that requires critical thinking skills that emotional learning does not. So it is less effective.

It gets more complicated still when a child develops a condition like autism, for which the cause is obscure. Jenny McCarthy’s son famously developed autism. He’d gotten a vaccination. In what Clyde Haberman in the New York Times properly identified as a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, McCarthy concluded the MMR vaccination had caused the autism. There is no – zero, zilch, nothing – credible evidence to support the conclusion.1 It’s emotional learning running the other way. With a smidgeon of irrationality thrown in hte mix as well.

The combination of poor risk assessment, ignorance of logic and absence of emotional appreciation of the risks of disease have spawned outfits like the National Vaccine Information Center, which at its website actively discourages vaccinations. The president of this disinformation center, Barbara Loe Fisher, is an English major. Not a physician. Not an epidemiologist. Not a statistician. But she has a child who suffered an allergic reaction to a diptheria booster.

With the exception of smallpox and rinderpest, medicine has not yet globally eradicated any other of humankind’s contagious diseases. They are still out there and, unless children are vaccinated, they are going to catch them. Seen from the other side, the anti-vaccination folks are incredibly selfish, jeopardizing the herd immunity that protects all Americans, but especially babies who are too young to be vaccinated. It takes a special kind of arrogant ignorance to jeopardize the health of babies because you have imaginary worries.

WC won’t ill-wish the anti-vaccination crowd’s children. But if an American child dies of measles, or the next completely avoidable childhood disease, WC isn’t going to forgive them, either.

  1. Don’t get WC started on former doctor Andrew Wakefield’s study, claiming that the vaccines could damage the brain. His findings were widely rejected as bunkum. More than 50 epidemiological studies found no merit to his claims, which were based on a statistically insignificant sample. The British Medical Journal went so far as to call his research “fraudulent.” The British journal Lancet, which originally published Dr. Wakefield’s paper, retracted it. The British medical authorities stripped Wakefield of his license

4 thoughts on “Inoculating You Against Anti-Vaxxers

  1. There are a bunch of parents in my area that don’t vaccinate. Their reasons seemed to be because the bible tells them not to (I’m not sure how/why), and they don’t want to have toxins shot into their kids. They say eating organic and being healthy will keep them immune. Now they are actually calling this a religious right and that they won’t be made to vaccinate their kids.

    I would like to know what these kids will do when they go off to college and end up with measles or something else like meningitis.

    Also, I had to prove I had vaccinations before I took a job at a hospital. And the ones I was missing, I had to get before I was officially hired. Will these un-vaccinated kids be able to get jobs?

  2. I had polio when I was 9. One of the “lucky” ones. I was only left with a crippled hand & a twisted back with continuing problems. I never had to be told to get my sons vaccinated, they were at the head of the line. I explained to then very carefully why it was so important & they learned that lesson well. My oldest was formerly married to an RN & she decided, during the start of the anti-vax madness, that their daughter would not get vaccinated. My son rarely put his foot down, but in this instance, he put it down & hard. She was vaccinated, and the RN, proving herself crazy in so many other ways, is thankfully history & has been fired so many times, she can no longer be a health risk to anyone.

    Great article WC, so many truths. Thanks

  3. When the polio vaccine became available, my parents made sure all six of their kids were vaccinated. This was in the 1950s. I remember receiving my vaccination in my elementary school cafeteria on Saturday. It’s a shame that some parents don’t realize that by refusing to have their kids vaccinated, they’re endangering the health of others, especially babies under one year of age and those who have health issues which cause them to not be able to be vaccinated. It’s also a shame that a Kinder Care in Illinois only decided that all staff members are to be immunized after five babies contracted measles there. One would think that being inoculated against childhood diseases would be a requirement to work in any daycare center.

  4. Growing up I had measles, mumps & chicken pox. Still have some chicken pox scars. Funny, I don’t remember any of these being “fun”. I do remember my father not being able to come home after work because he had never had measles and the doctor warned him to stay away. Being young, very sick and not being able to be comforted by a parent or even near him is a scary experience.

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