Vaccines are incredibly beneficial for two reasons. The first is the obvious one; for the individual receiving them they provide near-immunity to a whole range of horrendous diseases, many of which can prove fatal or have lifelong consequences for those who become infected. The risks associated with them are so small it’s hard to even connect them with the vaccines themselves and are far more likely to simply be the background noise than anything else. Secondly, when a majority of the population is vaccinated individuals who can’t be vaccinated (such as newborns) or those idiots who simply choose not to gain the benefit of herd immunity. This prevents most diseases from spreading within a community, providing the benefits of vaccinations to those who don’t have them. However there’s a critical point where herd immunity stops working and that’s exactly what’s starting to happen in northern California.
A recent study conducted by researchers working for Kaiser Permanente analysed the vaccination records for some 154,000 individuals in the Northern California region. The records cover approximately 40% of the total insured individuals in the area so the sample size is large enough for it to be representative of the larger whole. The findings are honestly quite shocking showing that there were multiple pockets of under-immunization (children not recieving the required number of vaccinations) which were signficantly above the regional mean, on the order of 18~23% within a cluster. Worst still the rate of vaccination refusal, where people declined any vaccinations at all, was up to 13.5%. It’s a minority of people but it’s enough to completely eradicate herd immunity for several horrible diseases.
For diseases like pertussis (whooping cough) and measles the herd immunity rate may only start kicking in at the 95% vaccination rate, mostly due to how readily they can spread from person to person. That means that only 5% of the population has to forego these vaccinations before herd immunity fails, putting at risk individuals directly in harms way. Other diseases still maintain herd immunity status down to 85% vaccination rates which some of the clusters were getting dangerously close to breaking. It’s clusters like this that are behind the resurgence of diseases which were effectively eradicated decades ago, something which is doing far more harm than any vaccine ever has.
It all comes down to the misinformation spread by several notable public figures that vaccinations are somehow linked to other conditions. It’s been conclusively proven again and again that vaccines have no link to any of these conditions and the side effects from a vaccination rarely amount to more than a sore arm or a fever. It’s one thing to make a decision that only affects yourself but the choice not to vaccinate doesn’t, it puts many other individuals at risk, most of whom cannot do anything to change their situation. You can however and the choice not to is so incredibly selfish I can’t begin to explain my frustration with it.
Hopefully one day reason will prevail over popularity when it comes to things like this. It’s infuriating to think that people are putting both themselves and others at risk just because some celebrity told them that vaccines were doing them more harm than good when the reality is nothing like that. I know I’ve beaten this horse several times since it died but it seems the bounds of human stupidity is indeed limitless and if I can make even just a small difference in those figures than I feel compelled to do so. You should to as the anti-vaxxers need a good and thorough flogging with the facts, one that shouldn’t stop until they realise the error of their ways.
I have to try hard to avoid the echo chamber I find myself in sometimes where the combination of my like minded friends, carefully tailored RSS feed and social media network can easily warp my view of the larger world. It’s for that reason specifically that I often find myself diving deep into opinions that disagree with my own, seeing if there’s any merit to the opposite side of the story. Sometimes this leads to amazing insights and there have been times when I’ve had to do a completely 180 on a long held stance because of it (climate change being the best example I can think of). One subject that hasn’t been changed by doing so is vaccinations, despite the torrent of “evidence” that anti-vaxers have heaped on my blog.
What really annoys me though is the pandering that the Australian government continually engages in with people who disagree with hard, scientific evidence. Initially this was due to the conscientious objector exemption for those who didn’t want to vaccinate and also didn’t want to lose their Family Tax benefit. Realistically it only punishes the stupid and lazy, not those who have deliberately decided not to vaccinate because of some belief that doesn’t hold up to casual scrutiny. Further reading suggests that this is exactly who the legislation was meant to target, those who are simply not responsible enough to get their children vaccinated unless they’re threatened with a loss of benefits. Whilst I’m sure that number is non-zero I still feel the legislation doesn’t go far enough as it doesn’t solve the underlying issue of anti-vaxers chipping away at herd immunity which puts everyone at risk.
Indeed when I first heard about the No Jab, No Play legislation that was coming in for NSW I thought we might be in for some real change as initially I didn’t hear of any exemptions past medical (which can be legitimate) and religion. However it seems like it will include the same dreaded exemption on “philosophical” grounds, essentially giving parents an out should they not want to vaccinate as long as they sit in a doctor’s office and ignore them for 30 minutes. This completely nullifies the point of the legislation as I’d hazard a guess that the rate of people who just plain forgot is far lower than those who are actively avoided vaccinations due to beliefs that can’t be backed up by anything more than a gut feeling.
Realistically I believe there should be no exemptions at all, regardless of your religious or philosophical point of view. The reason for this is simple: we have a responsibility to not endanger the health of others and refusing to vaccinate, for whatever reason, puts this at risk. There’s a very small percentage of people who can’t be vaccinated for sound medical reasons and they’re put at an ever increasing amount of danger by those who simply choose not to. This is not a matter of your beliefs only affecting yourself (something which I have no problem with) as your choices will have a direct impact on other people’s lives, no matter how hard you’ve convinced yourself otherwise.
It’s easy to miss the bigger picture when you’re in a modern, western country where virulent diseases that causes untold numbers of deaths have been a non issue for decades. If you look at other countries, ones where the vaccination rates aren’t as high as they are here, you can see a direct correlation between when the campaigns falter and the resurgence of the diseases they were trying to prevent. Additionally there’s also strong correlation with the increased numbers of vaccinations decreasing the rates of diseases like measles showing pretty clearly that they work exactly as intended. Suffice to say if the anti-vaxers had their way we’d be seeing diseases which are essentially non-existent making a resurgence, something which I don’t think many of them have considered as a consequence of their actions.
I know I’m mostly preaching to the choir here but hopefully these kinds of posts give you enough information to fight the torrent of bullshit that flows from the anti-vax crowd. It’s a hard war to fight, especially when the effort gap between saying something ludicrous and disproving it is so large, but the longer we keep at it the more chance we have of eradicating this particular brand of ignorance entirely. Indeed we can think of knowledge as a vaccination against stupidity, a disease that would lead you to trust strangers on the Internet over the scientists and doctors who worked so hard to save you from real diseases.