Monday, March 1, 2010

When parents put ignorance ahead of their kids health

This morning I read this story about the level of knowledge that parents have about vaccines and their potential side effects.

These kind of stories make me fume. Let me explain why. As a scientist, I'm trained as an immunologist, and I study how the immune system works. Honestly, besides increased hygiene, vaccines have saved millions from the scourge of infectious disease. Back in 1776 when Edward Jenner was the first reported use of using an attenuated virus to protect against a more serious one, 30% of people were dying from smallpox and those who survived were often horribly disfigured from the pox scars. In the time since then, we have spent time and energy in ways to prevent these infections, primarily in the young, who are susceptible to being killed by these infections. They do a very good job. The infant mortality rate in infants now is significantly lower than it was 250 years ago, and vaccines are a huge part of that.

Then there was the idiot story in the Lancet that stated that vaccines were linked to autism and the anti-vaccine movement started. It doesn't matter that the science is so flawed that 10 of the 13 authors have retracted their support of the paper and after 12 years, the journal FINALLY retracted the paper entirely. But the damage has been done. Celebrities like Jenny McCarthy says vaccines are bad, and she's famous - so she can't be wrong? Gimme a break!

I can understand that autism is a frustrating and devastating disorder and the fact that we cannot pin a cause to it, makes things like vaccines a good target. But it is a false one. It is one where parents, by refusing to vaccinate their children, are potentially putting their lives at risk. Not only those of their children, but the lives of others too. If we want our children to have 'natural' exposure to diseases, we are going to have to accept that children will succumb to those diseases, unnecessarily. No thank you. I have children in my life that I care for, and I will not accept the risk that they will get preventable infections that their bodies cannot handle. All parents looking to jump on the anti-vaccine bandwagon should also consider this, carefully.

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