January 13, 2011

Childhood Vaccinations: To Do or Not To Do: Questioning Civilization

I doubt very much that the people of this country who are having children today know  about the potentially devastating childhood diseases hiding amongst the populations of the world.  The most obvious reason for the lack of first hand knowledge about childhood diseases is everyone received the recommended vaccinations and did not get those diseases.  Over a generation of people in this the United States have raised children without the threat of what were once common childhood disease. Without a chronic reminder to reference, these diseases have slowly faded from the collective thoughts of those very people who are bearing children today.  The only references the young parents of today have regarding these disease are the different disease’s names that are thrown around in conversations among academic scholars, and old wives tales.

Isn’t it marvelous that you can live your entire life and never know someone who had a childhood disease like polio, measles, or whooping cough, let alone die from it.  Isn’t civilization grand.  You remember civilization, don’t you?

Civilization  The stage of human social development and organization that is considered most advanced.  This could also be interpreted as the behavior humans must achieve to live in cooperation together, as in, acting civilized.

Civilization started when one group of humans decided to consider the needs of another group of humans.  Sharing produce and services   Then sharing evolved into rules needed to live together in the same communities, and so on, until we arrive at our current state of civilization which many think is in rapid decline.

This decline is illustrated by such things as wars, theft, terrorism, and other self-centered behaviors.  One self-centered behavior that has been in the news recently: The study, led by Andrew Wakefield, then a consultant in experimental gastroenterology at London’s Royal Free Hospital, supposedly uncovered a “new syndrome” of autism and bowel disease among 12 children. Wakefield linked it to the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, also known as a MMR.  Eight of the children in the study were vaccinated shortly before the symptoms emerged.  Not only has this study been debunked through the scientific literature, but Dr. Wakefield’s license to practice medicine has been revoked.  Some parents have believed the premise of this “study” to a point that they refuse vaccinating their children.  They will not even consider vaccinations after this study was proven false.  It has sparked an emotional response that has no scientific basis, and has evolved a life of its own.

In the recent past, every child received the available childhood vaccinations regardless of the occassional side effect, because it was believed “better safe than sorry”.  Before vaccinations, parents grew up with the horrors of childhood diseases, and had seen the results of not preventing them first hand.  So naturally when the development of a new vaccine was announced for each terrible diseases that inflicted harm upon their children, parents ran to get their children first in line.  Just like you would if you heard there was a reliable vaccine for something like HIV/AIDS or cancer.


However, vaccinations are not always 100% effective.  For various reasons in some people, immunity never takes hold and they still remain susceptible to the diseases they’ve been immunized against. This is why it has always been thought that it is better to live among a population of vaccinated individuals if you cannot have a vaccination or cannot become immune to diseases through vaccinations.  This is because diseases usually do not flourish in such population groups very easily.  Unlike the contrasting view, being vaccinated and living among a population of unvaccinated people you may still get a degree of the disease because you are exposed to it so much more.


When discussing vaccinations with my patients I have recently started asking them which is bigger, a bacteria or a human cell?  Oddly enough I get bacteria as the answer more than I would have expected.  I tell them no.  The bacteria are much smaller than human cells.  As a matter of fact, we have more bacteria on our skin than we have cells in our entire bodies. Each one of these bacteria on our skin have properties that could infect our bodies.  Our immune system keeps bacteria from invading our body when they can get through our intact skin.  Then I tell my patient that this is similar to how our bodies work with vaccines.  A vaccine is made up of small pieces of very bad bacteria or viruses that our bodies do not usually come in contact with under normal circumstances. Because if we did come in contact with them in the right way, we may become ill from its infection.  Showing our bodies just a small piece of these bad bacteria or virus allows our bodies to build-up immunity to the bad bacteria or virus so that if we ever get exposed to them we will not get sick from them, just like we do not get sick from the bacteria on our skin.

Unfortunately, vaccines have become lightning rods for individual and groups to voice their opposition/frustration with big brother (government) and/or modern science (healthcare).  In the aftermath of the 1998 Wakefield study, many influential people have come out vocally against getting not only the MMR, but any vaccination. This leads un-immunizated children completely vulnerable to devastating childhood diseases.  This has put civilization at risk by not knowing who is infected.

Just imagine this scenario.  You as a parent have decided that you are not going to vaccinate your children with the measles vaccination.  You are visiting somewhere like France and one of your children picks up measles.  You fly home to your hometown and notice your child is getting sick. What are you going to do?  You love your child so you take him/her to the doctor’s office.  As you wait in the waiting room you see also waiting with you several other families with children of all ages. Some of those children have been vaccinated and some are too young to have had their vaccinations yet.  There is a young mother who not only has children running around, but is also pregnant with another.  I can tell you that you have the right to decide if your children should be protected against childhood diseases with vaccination, but do not you have the right to decide for everyone else around you?  Isn’t that what civilization is all about?

Please vaccinate your child today!