Saturday, May 2, 2009

Vaccinate your child or gramps gets it in the stomach!

There seems to be a growing ignorance about vaccination. From my informal queries of friends and acquaintances who have chosen not to immunize their children or who do not get flu vaccines, I have found that few people understand that vaccination is part of a greater social compact, not merely a personal cost/benefit analysis. The effect is called Herd Immunity. When we vaccinate ourselves, and especially our children, we are adding to the communal common defenses. Obviously, everyone would like to have a defensive wall built to protect a community yet everyone would prefer to not contribute. But that's not the way a good society works; we share the costs of doing things that benefit the common good.

Immunization of children is particularly important for two reasons: 1) Children's immune systems respond to vaccination much more effectively than do others, especially the elderly who are the most likely to die of viral diseases such as influenza. 2) Children are responsible for much of the transport viruses throughout a community owing to their mobility and lack of hygiene.

For example, a controlled experiment conducted in 1968 by the University of Michigan demonstrated that large-scale vaccination of children conferred a 2/3 reduction in influenza illnesses to all age groups. For a nice article on the subject, here's a Slate article from 2008.

I propose an old-fashioned poster campaign to inform about the social benefits of vaccination. Here's a couple of prototype posters I photoshopped up this afternoon. (Apologies to Norman Rockwell!)

(Original photo Adam Quartarolo via WikiCommons)

1 comment:

Thomas Blom said...

Logic does not always apply to parents of young children - we do anything our instincts tell us to protect our children, even if the statistics don't agree with our actions (and natural selection will be the judge in the end). I know two people personally that have had normal infant/toddlers turned into non-speaking marginally functioning people (one of them a family member that is now 18 and spends her time in a wheelchair). When you observe this first hand it has quite an impact that the statistics don't really overcome. And this mistrust is compounded by things like the still-standard application of the polio vaccine in the US, which has clearly done a world of good around the world, but which in the US has been responsible for every paralytic polio case (admittedly not many ~10/yr) in the US since 1979.

There is absolutely a trend in the direction you mention (though still a tiny minority), and interestingly it is among the more educated and progressive people that I know. There is strong overlap here with parents eschewing, at least in part, "full-strength" western medicine in favor of "alternative" approaches -- less use of antibiotics, etc. This is all about parents efforts to take more responsibility for what they feel is best for their children, instead of blindly following societies instructions that you *will* give vitamin k shots at birth, you *will* administer silver nitrate drops in your newborn (i.e. minutes old) eyes, you *will* follow a rather rigorous schedule of tests and injections throughout early childhood etc: and this compounded by misinformation and threats, such as hospitals lying and telling you it is law and they will not check out your child (or let you take him home! -it happened to me) unless you abide, or schools lying and telling you that it is a state requirement to have the shots, which is totally false.

So I applaud parents taking some of these things into their own hands and thinking about them; and when a thoughtful subset of society like this bucks the norms and says they'll take their chances, in the end this diversity must only be good for evolution, no?

As for us, we do our research and then have decided against the majority of vaccines, and just do a few that we think are appropriate to our young boys -- things like tetanus. When we get ready to head to the third world, we'll probably do some more.