Sunday, November 9, 2008

Jenny McCarthy is My Hero

I recently attended a dinner with a group that is involved in recruiting MDs for our local community. At the dinner, one of the guests informed the prospective Doctor that she isn't going to/hasn't vaccinated their youngest child because the vaccine made their oldest child sick (I won't get into the specifics). She furthered that comment with something along the lines of "so I tell all my friends and associates not to vaccinate their children." (The Doctor was, as expected, shocked by the statements.)

Growing up, I've always asked a lot of questions (I encourage it - heck, that's a good part of skepticism) and I had asked my Doctor about whether vaccines were causing kids to get sick. My Doctor responded with a simple response to the correlation/causation fallacy - "When a parent says, 'my kid didn't have until they were vaccinated', I simply say 'your kid didn't have until they turned 60 days old but I hardly think that is the cause'". Surely there is more to that discussion but it is a great introduction to someone who would immediately imply such a relationship.

I'm Insensitive

When discussing the autism/vaccination link claims, people are quick to state that I am being insensitive and they may be right but only because I think the underlying concerns are greater than your feelings (or desire to place blame). When your child is faced with any sort of medical condition or special need, it can raise a lot of questions in your mind. I'm not dismissing the grief that a parent goes through when they are in this position. I am just concerned that their irrational thinking may further endanger their child/children/family or others.

You're Endangering the Rest of Us

Vaccinations have had such great benefit because of mass inoculation (herd immunity) - they do not eliminate the problem. The diseases that vaccinations protect against have not disappeared and are often still quite active in other areas. World travel could quickly change the rate of infection in a population of people who are not vaccinated.

People will often argue that "why do you care? If you want to get vaccinated, that is your choice and if you are vaccinated and the vaccines are 'so great', you don't have to worry" but that ignores a number of underlying facts:

1.) Not all vaccines are "life long" - it is possible that immunity in vaccinated people can diminish over time. Having herd immunity limits transmission in a group and ultimately protects those who may have a diminished immunity.
2.) Outbreaks of diseases can affect other susceptible people (those who can not be vaccinated or could not YET be vaccinated - age, current medical conditions - and those with suppressed immune systems) (Now who is being insensitive?)
3.) Diseases can/do mutate and where there is a greater opportunity to do so, these mutations may result in a strain that is not protected against by our current vaccines.

It is also important to consider the financial burden and the strain on our medical establishment when we are forced to deal with the (unneccessary) outbreaks.

Why Jenny is My Hero

Stupid question - she isn't. There are good reasons, however, for me to be appreciative of her and her publicity. Long before Jenny came out and started suggesting that vaccinations cause autism, there have been stories (anecdotes) about vaccine/illness correlations going around that have obviously changed the minds of people who otherwise trusted the science/medical community.

I often hear people say, "I never got the flu until I got the flu vaccine". There are people who do get sick after receiving the vaccine - that is not to say that they wouldn't have gotten sick without the vaccine. The time of year for the common cold and a number of other factors could have been what caused the individual to get sick. Those claims have discouraged some others from getting the flu vaccine. If a person, upon hearing these anecdotes, was driven to do some research (or even ask their physician), it would be quickly dealt with. That often isn't the case and the myth is perpetuated.

What Jenny is doing for the science/medical establishment is good and bad.

Encouraging people to not vaccinate their children is a deadly proposition... BUT...

Giving scientists the platform to present the data and inform the public enables another generation of people to be informed about the benefit (and need) of vaccination.

At least Jenny isn't someone that people give unquestioned respect to - and for that reason, I'm hopeful that people will listen to (or search out) the facts! We need not imagine what would happen if your bronze-age book suggested that you needn't be vaccinated!

1 comment:

Pete Rooke said...

Greetings, from Pete Rooke. Feel free to add me to your blogroll.