Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Anecdotes Are Not Science

It seems to me that society is much more wary of western medicine than it was even just a few short years ago.  Perhaps it's because we are less prosperous and can't afford it as easily so we choose not to value it?  Maybe it's because we have gained incredible amounts of information via the internet and we figure that our Google research is just as good as an educated doctor's opinion?  Is it simply that fear-based marketing is  more effective than actual science at whipping the masses into a frenzy?

Something persuaded me to revisit my stance on vaccines.  Unlike Thomas Dolby, who was handicapped by science, I was blinded with the crazy on the internet.  There seems to be a severe lack of understanding of how vaccination works, particularly as it relates to herd immunity, efficacy rates, and what passes for scientific evidence. 

Ordinarily, I don't worry about how other people raise their children.  I may think that breast is best, but I don't really care if you choose to use formula from the first feeding session.  I may think that it's unnecessary and potentially unhealthy for young infants to have any solids, but I don't really care if you believe a bit of cereal makes your baby sleep through the night.  I may think that vaccines are the greatest accomplishment for the good of all mankind (and there were a lot of accomplishments!), but I don't care if you are willing to risk your child's safety by eschewing vaccines.

Ha!  Just threw that last part out there to see if you were paying attention.  Yes, I do care if other parents vaccinate their children because their personal choice may negatively impact my child.  That's how vaccination works.  If the full herd isn't immunized, the herd has chinks in it's armor against pretty horrible illnesses.  Did you get that?  Every unvaccinated person offers the potential for deadly diseases to sweep through society.  Every time that you choose not to get a booster, that illness has a chance to overwhelm your immune system.

I know what you're thinking, "But if you're vaccinated, why do you care?"  Glad you asked!  That's where an understanding of efficacy rates comes into play.  Very few things offer 100% guarantees and vaccines are not an exception.  That's why it is even more important that everyone gets their shots.  If everyone is immunized, an 80% efficacy rate isn't that big a deal because the illness is highly unlikely to gain a foothold and spread.  Those unvaxed folks, well, their super-awesome immune systems (and they all claim to have one) don't exactly stop a virus from reproducing and spreading.

If you're thinking that these diseases aren't all that deadly, I have to say that the vaccines have worked altogether too well.  No one remembers the days when children were disfigured, permanently crippled, or killed by illnesses we immunize against.  We eradicated smallpox.  We have the technology to eradicate so many more of these horrible viruses.

Ignorance is one thing, but submitting anecdotes and claiming they are science is far worse.  I've read some heartbreaking stories of perfectly wonderful little children who received some shot and were dead just days later.  That's sad and that's a shame.  But that does not prove that a shot is the reason for the child's death.  To say otherwise is disingenuous at best and it would be like me saying that Five Guys killed my brother.  He never ate there before, but he ate there the day before he died.  So, therefore, Five Guys is the reason my brother died.  Doesn't really make sense, does it?  Guess what?  It's also not scientific evidence.

Perhaps you are saying, "But all of these diseases aren't that bad; you had chicken pox and you ended up fine."  Yes, I did have chicken pox.  I was lucky to have it as a young child because it is far more debilitating for adults.  I missed a week or so of school and I was fortunate that I didn't end up with any scars from the horribly itchy blisters.  However, my bout with chicken pox also means that I can get shingles later in life.  See, the varicella-zoster virus (the same one that causes chicken pox) still lives somewhere around my spinal cord, as it does for all who have suffered chicken pox.  Years from now, that virus can somehow reactivate and result in shingles.  Do you know about shingles?  I've known two men who have suffered bouts of shingles and both swear it was impossibly painful.  As a bonus, through part of the outbreak, you can infect others so that they can then get chicken pox.  Hm, do I vaccinate my son against a harmless virus like little ol' chicken pox or do I let him succumb to a virus that can kill him and that might potentially reactivate in a spectacularly painful fashion many years later?

Unvaccinated people are society's parasites.  I don't mean that as an insult, I mean it in the most literal sense.  They are enjoying good health thanks to the actions of others.  I believe that, like paying taxes and obeying the law, getting your shots should be included in the price to live in a civilized society.  However, I don't run the country (yet!) so my thoughts on the matter really don't matter.  Parents are free to opt out of vaccinations and put their children at risk.  Unfortunately, their choice also puts my child at risk.

I don't always agree with their conclusions, but Penn & Teller did a Bullsh*t episode on vaccines that you might find interesting.  Enjoy!


  1. I agree wholeheartedly! I don't retain immunity from the rubella vaccination. If I were to have gotten rubella early on in any of my pregnancies, it could have been devastating (and almost certainly deadly) to my fetus. So herd immunity is a big issue for me.

    I remember a mom on a "crunchy" message board who was going on and on about the evils of the chickenpox vaccine, and how it was all just a big conspiracy theory to dumb down the masses so the government can control us more easily. She was bragging about how she had just taken her daughter to a chicken pox party so she could catch it naturally. Well, her daughter did indeed catch chicken pox, and you know what? Her sores became severely infected to the point that she was in the hospital for weeks, and very literally at death's door for a day or two. The little girl survived, but she now has disfiguring scars all over her body from the infected sores. I felt so sad for this little girl, especially considering this was something her mom had infected her with on purpose.

  2. Wow, that really sucks. Even worse than her mother getting her infected on purpose is that her mother had the choice to get the little girl the vaccine and see to it that her child most likely will never suffer in the first place. Of course, now the little girl also can get shingles should that virus reactivate in her system. . .nice. :(

    October 7, 2010 12:04 AM