Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mandatory Pertussis Vaccine in California

This post was inspired by and mostly taken from a thread that was started from a friend's FB status.  She wanted to know how others felt about the mandatory pertussis booster requirement to be in California public schools.  I know I'm a hippie, but I've always made myself very clear on the topic of vaccines in this blog and in other venues.  Indeed, I feel the need to educate others by any means necessary to get the message across that vaccines are vitally important.

I've come to the conclusion that most people grossly misunderstand vaccines.  They either think that it's not necessary because the illnesses prevented "aren't that big of a deal" or they think that it isn't necessary to expose their children to "toxins" because enough other people vaccinate their kids.  How do I feel on the mandatory pertussis vaccine requirement in public schools?  Come on, can't you guess?

I am strongly libertarian.  That is, I strongly believe in individual rights and would prefer to live with very little interference or so-called assistance from the government.  Certainly much less interference/assistance than is currently experienced in modern US society.

I chafe under many government-mandated requirements.  It seems that a day doesn't go by that I'm shaking my tiny fist of impotent rage at some dumb requirement that the government has determined is necessary.  Seatbelts, carseats, and helmets are but three examples of requirements that I think are ridiculous.  Understand that I'm not saying that I wouldn't use them if it weren't the law (actually, I wouldn't put a helmet on my son when he's on a bicycle if I had a choice), but I am irritated that the govt says you HAVE to use these safeguards. 

I'm further irritated when the government has safeguards in place to protect the individual, but not society at large.  Choosing not to vaccinate has far worse implications and can injure far more than just the one refusing the vaccine whereas choosing not to use a seatbelt (in the event of an accident) only can injure the one refusing to use it.  Yet, somehow, the government is more concerned about the health of the individual versus the health of society.  Does that make sense?

I think this analogy illustrates my thoughts on vaccines in general:  You certainly have the right to swing your fist to and fro.  However, your right to swing your fist ends at my face.  You have the right to willfully choose to do things that could be damaging to yourself or your children.  However, your right to do those things (or, more accurately, refuse those things), ends when it can be damaging to me or my children.  And, make no mistake, refusing vaccinations has the potential to impact more than just those who refuse.

Of course, it is only my opinion that vaccines should be mandatory for even enrolling in school.  We all know what they say about opinions, right?  An uninformed opinion is like a sapling, it bends in whichever direction the strongest wind is blowing, so I am going to offer up the actual reasons why I have an opinion that so wildly is at odds with my personal political philosophy.

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Let's look briefly at how vaccines work.  First, it's important to realize and accept that there is no vaccine that has 100% efficacy rates.  That means that even one who has received all of their shots still has a chance (slim, but it's there) of getting the illness they were vaccinated against. Generally speaking, it's a much milder case, but the risk is still there.

Also, it's important to realize that vaccines work on the premise of herd immunity.  If everyone were vaccinated against an illness, it would cease to exist.  Think I'm just making that up?  The very last known case of smallpox was in 1977.  How did smallpox get wiped off the face of the Earth?  Through a massive world-wide vaccination campaign.  Smallpox was only eradicated by 100% herd immunity! 

The flip side to the awesomeness that is herd immunity is that once we get a certain percentage of people not vaccinated, watch out!

On vaccines in general, I kinda think they have worked altogether too well. No one remembers a time when people (often children) where stricken, disfigured, crippled, or killed from what are now pretty much entirely preventable diseases. Or a time when most families had at least one child who was injured or died from an illness that we have the ability to prevent today!

Even illnesses that aren't generally thought to be a big deal can absolutely be a big deal.  Take chicken pox.  I know someone who won't vax their child against chicken pox because "it's no big deal." I guess she's never known anyone who was left with a scarred up face from it or, worse, someone who has died from it/it's accompanying fever. On varicella (the virus that causes chicken pox), most people don't realize that you are NEVER totally free from the virus because it lives dormant in your nervous system. Ever heard of shingles? It's extremely painful and is what happens when varicella is somehow reactivated later in life. Naturally, my son received his varicella vaccination to spare him any suffering from an initial outbreak of chicken pox or the possibility of future pain from shingles in his later years.

The worst part of refusing vaccination is that herd immunity only works when the vast majority of the herd is vaccinated because it doesn't allow an illness to get a toehold in society.  And who is injured the most when the herd's immunity is diminished?  Who are the ones who suffer when a large enough percentage of people refuse vaccinations?  The most vulnerable members of society.  The sick, the old, and the very young; cancer patients, HIV/AIDS patients, those with any autoimmune diseases, grandparents (& some of our parents), newborns.  Remember that vaccines do not carry efficacy rates of 100% and these people are counting on the rest of us to get our vaccines!

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I think the reason they are pushing pertussis in California right now is because of the amount of infants who were stricken and died last year. I remember reading that, although the number seemed small to me (of course, it wouldn't seem that way to me if it were my own infant who died), it was the highest number of whopping cough deaths in some number of years. If memory serves, they have to be at least two months old before even beginning their series on that one so they are completely vulnerable (less so if breastfeeding, but still vulnerable) until at least 2 months of age.  If you expect to be around any infants, do that child a favor and get your Pertussis booster to help protect the lil' one.

I'm guessing that the reason they are pushing it on school kids is because education is mandatory so there's less chance of falling through the cracks and avoiding it. But ideally we all would keep up on our vaccine boosters and we certainly should if we will be around any young infants.
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I've read that I'm excessively verbose on this topic.  I guess it's because I read and hear so much faulty information that I think most people don't understand any of this.  I'm not trying to impose my will on anyone, but I'm trying to explain the "why" in a way that makes sense to those who don't want to do the research for themselves. 

And, yes, it should just be your choice. Unfortunately, parental choices as it relates to vaccines can threaten the general public.  Parental freedom is infringed upon all the time and this is one of the rare cases where I believe that the government needs to make a mandate.  Frankly, I wish they'd made the vaccines mandatory years ago so it would simply be second nature now, just like wearing seatbelts, because not vaccinating threatens a helluva lot more people than just yourself and you're the only one who suffers if you get in an accident while not wearing a seatbelt.

If a parent doesn't care that their own child might suffer due to a preventable illness because "it's no big deal" or they believe in a fraudulent study and discredited researcher linking vaccines to autism, that's their business.  But it is absolutely my business if my child may suffer due to your choices.  Remember the swinging fist analogy?  Choosing not to vaccinate your child can end with my child getting hit in the face by your decision and that is why I am so passionate on this topic.

Feel free to comment and debate on this, but do back it up with facts and not simply opinion or fears.  I do have strong opinions on the topic, but I'm not unreasonable and am willing to change my views in light of new facts.  But do note that anecdotes, while usually profoundly sad, are not facts.  And play nice with each other. . .none of us intentionally wants to harm their children so personal attacks aren't necessary or welcomed.

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