Being a nurse, I occasionally get the person who wants my opinion on whether or not to vaccinate. Because I was recently approached to offer my opinion, I have a few thoughts I’d like to share on the subject here.
The non-vaccination movement is largely based on the work of a man named Andrew Wakefield. His worked “appeared” to link the MMR (measles mumps rubella) vaccine to causing autism. Many well-meaning parents who feared that their children would develop autism choose to not have their children innoculated with this vaccine, or in many cases, with ANY vaccines. It has recently come to light that Mr. Wakefield’s very limited study was in fact, fraudulent. You can read that story HERE. There are others who simply think that vaccines are “toxins” to which they don’t wish to expose their children. And there are those who believe that there’s a government conspiracy in there somewhere.
Children are routinely vaccinated for a number of diseases. Some of the vaccines they receive are measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diptheria, pertussis (whooping cough), rotavirus, hepatitis B, polio, haemophilus influenzae type b, varicella (chicken pox), and meningitis.
Because most parents DO vaccinate, the children who live amongst them who are unvaccinated generally enjoy an environment free from many previously common communicable diseases. This is called “herd immunity“. The more people who have immunity equals a lesser chance for those who DON’T have immunity to be exposed. When the numbers of the herd who are immune drops, the potential for the non-immune to contract and spread these diseases to other non-immune individuals (and vaccinated individuals who have less immunity) rises. The magic number for herd immunity is about 90%. When the percentage of immune individuals drops below that 90% number, the chance for diseases to spread in a community begins to increase. So what happens when a community “bucks the herd”? Well, we can look to Boulder, Colorado, for the answer to that question. Boulder holds the dubious distinction of being one of the least vaccinated communities in the United States. And it has a high rate of whooping cough as a result. Whooping cough (pertussis) is endemic in that community. A community where, to be a bit cheeky, parents are more concerned about fumes from paint and carpet than they are about potentially deadly communicable diseases.
Because of aggressive vaccination programs, smallpox (which swept through the indiginous populations of the Americas and killed millions) is unknown to us today. Polio, which struck terror into the US population in the 20th century, has been all but eradicated from the western hemisphere. How often do you hear of someone having diptheria? How about tetanus (lockjaw)? In most developed countries, these diseases have become almost entirely a thing of the past.
So, what are some of the little thought of effects of non-vaccination? Healthcare costs are something that we are all congnizant of these days. Let’s say your child comes down with a fever and appears to have a viral illness of some sort. The vaccinated child is seen by a practitioner who is able to “rule out” many possibilities for the cause of the symptoms. The non-vaccinated child is seen by the same practitioner who now must test for many other potential illnesses. These can be costly tests. And the child will more than likely be requiring isolation until a source is determined.
Many of these diseases can be worse to get as an adult. What about these young girls who grow up and want to have children. To be exposed to some diseases while you are pregnant can be fatal to the unborn child, or leave the child with horrible disabilities. Every pregnant woman who has never had chicken pox, was vaccinated before the varicella vaccine became available, or who has no immunity from previous exposure, knows to stay the heck away from any kid who does! Early in a pregnancy, chicken pox can cause all manner of problems. The pregnant mother is also at risk for chicken pox pneumonia, which can be deadly!
Other demographics who are at increased risk for disease and death because of the non-vaccinated individual are the young who have not completed their vaccinations, the elderly, and the immunocompromised. That means that any one who has a disease which affects their immune system (like HIV/AIDS), or has to permanently take medications which suppresses their immune system (like a transplant patient, or a rheumatoid arthritis patient), or those who temporarily take medications which suppress their immune system (like someone who is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer) are ALL at increased risk from the non-vaccinated person.
Now let’s say an unvaccinated child has grown up and is considering what to do as a career? Do you think a hospital will allow an unvaccinated person work there? Nope. How about if this person wants to join the military? Teach school? There are many professions which would now be closed to this person, or if they choose to follow these paths, they will now have to get many series of vaccines…they would have to “catch up”.
What if this child decides he wants to travel internationally? He or she may want to reconsider any travel to a non-western country. Or they could get all “caught up” on their missed vaccines as well as receive more vaccines depending on what they might be at risk for due to their itinerary. Or they could roll the dice and travel unvaccinated and chance 1) getting sick, and 2) bringing disease back to their own country where they could potentially expose more people to disease.
Diseases like Hepatitis B and polio are gifts that keep on giving. Should you contract and survive polio, you are still at risk for post-polio syndrome. Those of us who weren’t alive during the polio epidemics simply cannot appreciate the horror. Twenty-five percent of those who contract Hepatitis B go on to develop liver cancer. These are not benign diseases we are talking about here.
I think that not vaccinating children is an irresponsible, short-sighted, selfish, and potentially devastating choice.
The more people who don’t vaccinate, the closer all communities come to dropping below that 90% which will put more and more people at risk. Communities like Boulder are doing no one any favors. I, for one, would never send my child to public school in a city like Boulder, or Ashland, Oregon (the city with the highest rate of non-vaccinated children in the United States).
The potential risks of vaccinations is far outweighed by the potential risk of non-vaccination.
Personally, I am hoping that the small pox vaccine once again becomes available. I’ll get it as soon as it does. Because of communities like Boulder, it is now recommended that adults get a booster vaccine for pertussis. It is available with the tetanus/diptheria booster, and the next time my Td comes due, you can bet I’ll be vaccinating for pertussis as well. Not because I’m concerned with contracting pertussis as it is one disease that is less serious in adults than it is in children, but because I don’t want to be the one who passes pertussis to a child. Pertussis is a very serious infection in young children. (Those who staff NICUs – Neonatal Intensive Care Units – are often required to be up to date on their pertussis vaccination).
It isn’t that long ago that the anthrax scare swept across America. I was concerned about that potential biological weapon threat, but we have a growing number of potential petri dishes of biological agents being introduced into the general population each year.
I believe it is time for the non-vaccinating public to rethink their decision…especially in the new light that the “science” upon which many have based their decision has been largely disproved and the “scientist” discredited. And because, for the good of their communities, vaccinating is the right thing to do.
That being said, there is one vaccine that I do not believe should be on the routine vaccination schedule. As I have written before, the Gardasil vaccine which protects against HPV (human papilloma virus) should only be given to those who have chosen against abstinence, are sexually active, and especially if they are not monogamous, as HPV can ONLY be transmitted sexually. Some would also put Hepatitis B into this category, but since Hep B is not only sexually transmitted but can be transmitted with the transference of infected blood as well as body fluids, one can be at risk in other ways as well, like through a tainted blood transfusion.
Not quite done yet, I have one more thought to offer. Were, say, an immunocompromised student attending a public school to suffer harm because of exposure to a disease brought to the school by a non-vaccinated child OR were an elderly nursing home patient to suffer harm by a disease brought to the home by a non-vaccinated child, I would not be against charges being brought against the parent of the child who spread the disease. I think parents should be held accountable for their risky decision to not vaccinate.
And that is one blogger’s opinion.