Thursday, October 27, 2011

Immunization Paranoia

Ask anyone who has survived travel to third-world countries (as I have - 125 nations so far) and especially those who survived places like Hanoi Hilton. We will tell you that immunization has saved our lives. A trace of mercury in some vaccines is nothing compared to the diseases we're exposed to in under-immunized nations or those which our unimmunized ancestors faced.

In my nearly 40 years of global travel, I have always felt safe in coming home to my children (and now my grandchildren) knowing I'm not a vector for something that could kill them and, if I am, they are immunized against whatever I'm most likely to be carrying.

Today, I was asked, "If the vaccinations work, why would the vaccinated fear an unvaccinated me?"

Because I am vaccinated, I have no fear of disease in places like Africa and South Asia. I therefore am certainly not afraid of Americans who aren't vaccinated. My lack of fear is a natural consequence and benefit of my choice (and that of my parents) to accept vaccination.

I oppose mandatory vaccination of the general civilian population. I support the right of parents to deny vaccinations for their children. But, rights imply responsibilities and choices imply consequences. Like me and my choice, the unvaccinated and their parents also must accept the natural consequences of their choice. Such consequences include disease and, if the Public Health Service announces incidences of a potentially dangerous communicable disease, self-imposed family quarantine -- even if not showing symptoms of illness.

We, who are vaccinated, don't fear you. But, consider this: One out of 20 children with measles -- a very common disease during my childhood -- gets pneumonia. For every 1,000 children who get the disease, one or two will die from it. (The side-effects of a measles vaccination are insignificant by comparison.) The unvaccinated have a moral obligation to not be a potential vector of such dangerous illnesses to infect others who are unvaccinated. And, the unvaccinated would certainly would be wise to fear each other!

Those who chose to not immunize their children must acknowledge and appreciate that their unimmunized children have significant protection from epidemics that never happen because most other parents immunize theirs.

My generation was the last to see an epidemic in America. I had classmates who were crippled by polio. That disease killed an uncle. I remember my mother taking us to Doctor Bunderson to get shot over 50 years ago. Today, I wonder whether those primitive-by-today's-standards shots are a factor in the inconvenient allergies and arthritis I have today in my 60s. But I do know that whatever inconveniences I suffer today have been a small price to pay to avoid a wheelchair or death.

History shows that lack of immunization is an excellent form of population control.

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