Why We Vaccinate

Day’s Verse:
Do you hear Lady Wisdom calling? Can you hear Madame Insight raising her voice?
She’s taken her stand at First and Main,
at the busiest intersection.

Proverbs 8:1-2-ish

About 15 years ago, a study came out that seemed to link autism and vaccinations. Hearing this, many alarmed parents put on the brakes and decided not to immunize their kids, hoping to protect their darling bundles of joy from autism. As a result, we now have a rather astonishing number of un-immunized teens and young adults running around. Now, even at the time this study came out, it wasn’t a 100% for-sure thing (nothing in science ever is). Parents jumped on this bandwagon eagerly, wanting to protect their kids, but without strong scientific backing for that decision.

And then, of course, the apparent correlation was pretty roundly discredited. Other scientists couldn’t replicate the findings, a crucial part of the scientific process. The CDC states firmly: “CDC supports the [Institute of Medicine] conclusion that there is no relationship between vaccines containing thimerosal [the ingredient in vaccines thought to cause autism] and autism rates in children.” Other articles, such as this 2010 one in CNN and this 2011 one in NY Times report the same thing: Far from supporting the original findings, numerous other studies have shown no link between autism and vaccination.

On top of that, the original study was shown to have fraudulent results. Most of the co-authors of the original paper retracted their support. The Lancet, which originally published the autism-vaccine study, retracted the original paper when “A British medical panel concluded last week that Dr. Wakefield had been dishonest, violated basic research ethics rules and showed a “callous disregard” for the suffering of children involved in his research.” See also: Here; or Google it yourself; innumerable articles provide all the details.

To summarize: Other scientists couldn’t replicate the original results apparently linking autism and immunizations. In fact, many other studies seemed to show the opposite, that there was no link (note: this is important. Having a variety of people in different labs in different places getting the same results suggests there’s something in those findings). On top of this, the guy who ran that original study had such sleazy ethics — taking money from people suing vaccine companies, for example — as to induce a very reputable journal to toss out his findings.

Is this the kind of evidence you should trust when deciding what to do for your kid’s health?

Why is this important now? Because Washington State is experiencing a whooping cough epidemic, and it could very easily be avoided. We have an effective vaccine against pertussis. Kids are supposed to get it early in life, and adults need occasional booster shots (the TDaP). Historically only immigrants who never got immunized have suffered from this disease. Yet now we’re getting 400 cases of whooping cough recorded every month, with an anticipated 3,000 cases recorded by the end of the year — and, given that only about 10% of cases are reported, that’s really alarming.

Whooping cough isn’t a disease to mess around with. Imagine spending three or more months coughing, unable to lay down, because ever time you get near horizontal, you cough more. Sleeping propped in a chair. Coughing uncontrollably until you nearly pass out, and then sucking air in desperately as stars sparkle in your vision. It’s like the worst cold you could imagine, except even worse than that, for months.

I happen to have personal experience with this particular disease: My mom got it when we were kids. I’ve seen the entire thing. Fortunately, my parents had vaccinated us, so we didn’t get it. But even though I was young when it happened, I’ll never forget the coughing misery mom went through for what seemed like years. Also fortunately, adults don’t usually die from it. They just suffer some of the most miserable months of their lives. Infants and young children, however, do die from pertussis, usually contracted from an un-immunized adult in their lives.

That is why it’s important for adults to get their TDaP booster shots. Protect the young children in your life: Get vaccinated.

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