21 March 2008

What happens if you don't vaccinate.

Public Health Risk Seen as Parents Reject Vaccines

One of my favorite bloggers, Orac over at Respectful Insolence, blogs a fair bit about the "Autism is caused by vaccines" crowd. He's been noticing that for many its not just about the unproven link to autism, its really just straight up anti-vaccination silliness. And as public health officials have been warning for ages now, if you don't get your children vaccinated, you risk an outbreak. Well, its happened, and the anti-vaccine folk seem to be unapologetic.

“I refuse to sacrifice my children for the greater good,” said Sybil Carlson, whose 6-year-old son goes to school with several of the children hit by the measles outbreak here. The boy is immunized against some diseases but not measles, Ms. Carlson said, while his 3-year-old brother has had just one shot, protecting him against meningitis.

“When I began to read about vaccines and how they work,” she said, “I saw medical studies, not given to use by the mainstream media, connecting them with neurological disorders, asthma and immunology.”

Ms. Carlson said she understood what was at stake. “I cannot deny that my child can put someone else at risk,” she said.

Vaccinating your children is not sacrificing them. To acknowledge that you are putting other children at risk of potentially deadly disease, and yet do nothing, thats selfish. The article latter says that some see the anti-vaccine parents as a parasites benefiting from the protection of the vaccinated majority. Parasite is a little strong, but the analogy is apt.

Alexandra Stewart, director of the Epidemiology of U.S. Immunization Law project at George Washington University, said many of these parents are influenced by misinformation obtained from Web sites that oppose vaccination.

“The autism debate has convinced these parents to refuse vaccines to the detriment of their own children as well as the community,” Ms. Stewart said.

Whats that line about a little bit of knowledge being a dangerous thing? This is one of those times when the inability to tell the difference between real science and quackery is dangerous. Usually its benign, or it will con you out of some money. Some more dangerous quackery will lead people to delay or refuse treatment. But this is dangerous to more than just the poor schmuck that gets taken in. This is dangerous to the rest of us.

There is substantial evidence that communities with pools of unvaccinated clusters risk infecting a broad community that includes people who have been inoculated.

For instance, in a 2006 mumps outbreak in Iowa that infected 219 people, the majority of those sickened had been vaccinated. In a 2005 measles outbreak in Indiana, there were 34 cases, including six people who had been vaccinated.

The disease can use the unvaccinated as a petri dish, changing its genome and then jumping over to the vaccinated. Now different enough from the vaccine to spread among the vaccinated, the outbreak really gets going.

So get your children vaccinated, not just for their health, but for all of ours. The risks are small, the benefits huge. Its like paying your taxes or not breaking the sewer system. Its just the good thing to do.


Chris, Syd, Kayden, Luke, and Noah said...

Question regarding your comment "The disease can use the unvaccinated as a petri dish, changing its genome and then jumping over to the vaccinated."
Have studies verified that the strains have altered beyond the initial pool of infected. I guess that would make sense if so. So the vaccines would become ineffective to the main population

E.M. said...

No, I don't have any studies to back that one up, it's just speculation as far as I know. That said, I don't think that its much of a leap of imagination. It could be tested rather easily within an outbreak. I would want to sequence the genome of the virulent strain and compare it to the genome (or genomes) used to make the vaccine.

It happens more often in bacterial populations, we call it antibiotic resistance. The idea is that given just a fraction of a chance, these viruses and bacteria will adapt to the conditions they are given.