Stolen: Beware the vaccine fearmongers
A lot of people think that having a “Dr.” in front of a name makes the person an expert. I’m talking about the information circulating that “the government or pharmaceutical companies are out to kill us” or “don’t vaccinate your children because vaccines are harmful” or “this food or that product causes cancer.” Many of the articles are signed by Dr. So-and-So. But Dr. So-and-So, how long ago did you take, or have you ever taken a microbiology or immunology class, both rapidly changing fields? Are you currently doing research in immunology, oncology, toxicology, in a first-class institution, and have you ever participated in a peer-reviewed journal or critiqued a colleague’s research publication? Research in medicine is very specialized! There, unfortunately, exist poorly designed studies with not enough controls or subjects to get good statistics. There are claims that certain substances cause cancer made from extrapolations from studies done on experimental animals given doses far beyond normal exposure levels. Some claims are purely circumstantial with no hard scientific evidence. Recently, the medical journal The Lancet retracted a publication claiming links to autism and the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine. The doctor making this claim made false claims and was unethically gaining financially by this publication. Despite this, there are those who would stand by him – although numerous studies show that this claim is false.
Some fearmongers mean well, others are so obsessed with bringing others into the conspiracy-theory fold that they will say and do anything. There are websites like “Operation Fax to Stop the Vax,” which claims a vaccine caused the 1918 flu epidemic. Flu vaccines had not even been invented until the 1940s, and they did not even know a virus caused influenza. There are also anti-swine-flu-vaccine rap videos, press releases, e-mail campaigns, talk shows. So much misinformation can be spread now through internet blogs to stir up irrational fears. I recently got an article in my mailbox at CMC which listed reasons why we should not vaccinate our children. I’m sure the person who put it there was well meaning. Many of the statements contained falsehoods and were misleading.
There are those people who just plain hate the idea of vaccines and needles. Maybe the children cry when they get vaccinated, it hurts, it is not natural, or they do not like the fact that schools require children to be immunized. They hate it to the point that they are willing to spread falsehoods, make up lies, distort the results of studies, and misrepresent statistics.
Frightened parents refuse to have their children vaccinated, and there are now reports that “hot spots” are cropping up, and will increase across the U.S. Once-common childhood diseases such as measles, whooping cough, mumps, rubella and diphtheria are reoccurring as “herd immunity” decreases. Herd immunity is a term used to depict the numbers of individuals immune to a disease in a community. When the herd immunity is high, the disease will not spread because it has no susceptible reservoir. Cases of whooping cough and diphtheria are reemerging in the former Soviet Union in the unvaccinated. Just watch the video “The Coming Plague” to see the suffering of a person with this disease. Polio still exists in unvaccinated areas of Africa and was the fear of parents in the U.S. in the early 1900s. Measles exists in Haiti and in the UK after some stopped vaccinating their children; a number died of measles. Many of the common childhood diseases under control in the U.S. still exist somewhere in the world, and with global travel and immigration, have the potential to spread in the unvaccinated. Most of these painful, debilitating, crippling diseases could be prevented with a little prick of a needle. Have you ever seen a picture of someone with smallpox? The gruesome pustules visible on the skin exist in the internal organs as well. This disfiguring, often deadly disease was eliminated by vaccination.
The pharmacist at City Market, where I got my H1N1 shot, said there is plenty of vaccine for everyone. It didn’t hurt. I feel fine. My arm wasn’t even sore. It cost me $10. No one knows for certain whether this H1N1 influenza will come in a second or third wave, but historically some influenzas have done so, and sometimes having mutated into a more virulent form.
Breckenridge resident Dr. Joanne Stolen is a former professor of microbiology from Rutgers now teaching classes at CMC. Her scientific interests are in emerging infectious diseases and environmental pollution.
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