Vaccines: victims of their own success

Some antivaccination group declared October Vaccine Injury Awareness Month. In response, I’ve put up at least one post a week about vaccination. I wasn’t able to blog about everything I wanted to. I wanted to write about influenza, and why we need a new flu vaccination every year. I also wished to look at the tactics used by anti-vaxxers. In the end, I didn’t get to. My next post will be my Autistics Speaking Day post and this is my last post for October.
Vaccination has been a victim of its own success. Its benefits are now largely invisible. Many of today’s parents have never seen the diseases prevented by vaccination. My mother went to school with a girl whose arm was crippled by Polio, yet (thanks to vaccination) I never knew any Polio victims. Smallpox killed a third of its victims, and is extinct in the wild so we no longer have to vaccinate against it. In countries which innoculate against Tetanus, there are maybe a handful of cases a year. Tetanus is dangerous because it releases a toxin that can kill.
The fact that vaccine preventable diseases are now so rare because of vaccination has led some parents to miscalculate the benefits and risks. Anti-vaxxers often mention that vaccines contain formadlehyde. Oooh, scary! Except they leave out the fact that your cells create formaldehyde as part of the metabolic process, and that there is more formaldehyde in a cup of orange juice than in a vaccination. Aluminium is used in some vaccines as an adjuvant to boost the reaction to the active ingredients, and yet one banana has many times the amount of aluminium as a vaccine.
The problem with diseases like Measles and Mumps is that thanks to falling vaccination rates around the world, they are just a flight away. Most if not all recent outbreaks have a common script: unvaccinated individual goes overseas, catches the illness, and spreads it on his or her return home. Many diseases are highly virulent. If enough people forgo vaccination, immunity levels fall below the herd immunity threshold, and the disease spreads at shocking speed.
Some Doctors’ Offices have started to take a hard line on vaccination: if a child does not have a medical exemption, then the child must be vaxxed according to the schedule or the parents must find a new physician. Sad as it is that they have to take this line, I agree with them. An unvaccinated child who gets a disease puts every other child seen by the practice at risk. In my last post, I mentioned Natalie. She was just seven months old when she was exposed to Measles by an unvaccinated child at a Doctors’ Office. She is now dead, killed by SSPE, a rare but very dangerous syndrome caused by Measles.
Whenever a vaccine is introduced against a disease, the infection rate of that disease follows a predictable decline. Firstly, the number of yearly infections decreases gradually for a few years. Then, as herd immunity is reached, the infection rate plummets. In 1980, it is estimated that Measles killed some 2.6 million people. By 2008, the yearly worldwide death toll was 164,000 which is a drop of over 90%. In 1970, the first MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccination was introduced. No endemic cases of Rubella (German Measles) have been seen in the Americas since 2009. By contrast, Measles cases are rising in Europe due to parents choosing to forgo the vaccination for their children.
The problem with vaccination is that its benefits aren’t currently obvious. Only now that the falling vaccination rates have resulted in a rise of cases are people starting to once again realise that it works.


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I am a Software Test Analyst. Shortly before I turned 21 I was officially diagnosed, although I had long suspected I was autistic. Welcome to my blog
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