This is my first ever blog entry. I hope readers will find it entertaining, or at least interesting. I am a scientist, but I hope to make my blog and its content assessable and colloquial. I’ve been meaning to begin a blog for a while, but have come up dry with regards to content that I felt most people would be interested in. My feeling about blogs is that what I write as an individual doesn’t really matter, but if I can entertain or engage a reader or two, then its worth while. I’ve never done this before, so you’ll have to forgive my unorthodox delivery of my thoughts (you’ll see what I mean).
Recently, an old friend of mine wrote me asking for some information. His request was related to the prevalent discussions relating to the vaccination vs non-vaccination debate. Now, as a scientist I have a very discrete opinion on the subject matter. It was quite obvious that this individual reached out to me to perhaps relay some of the heavy science into discernable English, which is in large part what I do for a living. Don’t get me wrong; I was flattered and happy to help; but to tell you the truth, this is a topic that I have quite strong opinions on (as you will see) largely because of the fact that I have children myself. To set the scene for my response, below is what he wrote (I have removed names and personal references):
— Hi Barry, Currently I’m reading the book Guns, Germs, and Steel. One of the chapters inevitably discusses germs and it’s brought about some interesting questions. Primarily, I’m curious why anyone would choose to not vaccinate their children? Both of mine have received their shots, but in effort to more clearly understand the recent attention given to those who do not, do you have any thoughts or quick references in laymen’s terms in support of vaccination? Additionally, are there potential consequences for those of us who have been inoculated because others choose not to do so? Thanks… I hope all is well. —
So…where do I start? Let me first state for the record that I am not an Immunologist or Virologist (I am an organic chemist interested in materials), and thus most of my opinions are based on reading primary literature (journals) and having entertainingly frank conversations with colleagues who are immunologists/virologists ranting about obtuse parents. From that, you can probably guess what side of the fence I’m on (in favor of vaccinations). Both my children have been immunized, in Canada and in the UK. It is important to note that every country has a different (though similar) immunization schedule, which can have an impact on unintentional exposure in the early stages of the vaccination schedule. For the information of those of you in North America, in the UK, it is mandatory to have immunizations to enter public or private school. No jabs means home-school. It is the law (and also in most EU member countries as well). Though there are some exceptions, vaccination is effectively scripture. Because of this, there is little issue here (in the UK) and not many dispute it (one has to consider demographic as well, however, where core science is exceedingly well received here in EU; this is not to say that this is not also the case in the US and Canada, but the generalizations made in the media – of some states (US) not teaching evolution – has obviously affected my view on how some of these regions may respond to science). In this statement, I myself am an excellent example of how perception from media can influence opinion without appropriate research. My comments are merely meant to convey the idea that because of the weight behind Faith in these states, their perceptions of science (not only evolution, but other ideas as well) will play a role in parents decision to vaccinate or not.
Obviously the real ‘pop-culture’ issue of vaccinations, seemingly connected to cases autism or autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), was where media took hold. The issue had been around for many years prior for various other reasons, but none with scientific merit. In all honesty, I’m not sure I can answer the first question about why someone would not want to vaccinate their children. In my opinion, the main reason at present is, effectively, fear-mongering; fear of autism (the big one, championed by high profile people such as Jenny McCarthy); fear of ‘foreign’ materials in the body Interestingly, I found a news paper article a few weeks ago (which I can no longer find) that directly correlates the amount of autism diagnoses with the increase in organic food sales…foreign stuff in body…an interesting though meritless correlation. Finally, fear of not knowing what the vaccinations actually do and how they work. The main problem is the public’s infatuation with celebrity opinion. They are not experts and this is of course a silly statement to event type because we know this.
Question 2: references that support vaccination – To me, there are two poignant journal articles (there are a lot, but these two are the most impactful). One is really well written (and has accessible components) from 2009 outlining the 3 major reasons where the fear originated and also the scientific facts behind why they are false (namely: the original cocktail for MMR, Thimesol which contained Mercury, and when these were proven to be false, the theory of multiple vaccines in a single cocktail became the source of fear). This article is freely available.
The first paragraph of each section introduces the issues well, but obviously feel free to read the whole article.
The second is an article from 2014 (a much larger study, and a bit hard to get through) effectively quashing any reasonable link between autism and vaccination This was the nail in coffin for non-vaxers arguments against vaccinations, and yes, this happened only last year. Below is also an NHS link (National Health Service…for the UK) summarizing the findings of this 2014 paper (which is a bit dense).
Luke E. Taylor, Amy L. Swerdfeger, Guy D. Eslick “Vaccines are not associated with autism: An evidence-based meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies” Volume 32, Issue 29, 17 June 2014, Pages 3623–3629
This article is not free, but…it is found here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X14006367
Additionally, recent discoveries have shown that origins of autistic behaviors stem from genetics. The primary source for this is embedded in this article.
In terms of consequences for those of us who have been vaccinated: there is only a mild chance that one would contract a catastrophic strain. The antibodies from the vaccine would be native of some previous strain, and thus it’s more likely that someone who has been vaccinated could exhibit very mild symptoms of the ’native’ bug. Essentially they would have the majority of the antibody material to fight it. This does not rule out the idea of ’superbugs’ and such, but very little would stop those anyway. The big fear is that a ’superbug’ could mutate and incubate in someone who has not been vaccinated…and then spread, but in this instance the conditions would have to be absolutely perfectly right and if one starts talking probability theory, you are entering the ‘possible, but not probable’ zone. The real fear is the wave of non-vaxed individuals since approximately 1999 and growing. They put any new children at risk of death and also it puts young people in the early stages of vaccination processes at risk as well, as they may not have received their full ‘cocktail’. This fear also includes those with immumnodepressive issues.
For those of you interested, here is a ‘measles counter’ for the current situation in the US.
Hopefully some find this information useful, and not overly technical…my intention was to keep it more conversational than scientific. I can assure those of you who are skeptical, vaccinations save lives and are not connected to ASD.
Nobody likes measles, or Polio (except for those who constructed the negative pressure ventilation chambers to aid with breathing…also known as the iron lung). Get.Your.Kids.Vaccinated. You are a hero if you do.