Widespread vaccination programs have been the key to driving many crippling diseases to extinction. This boils down to one, simple, irrefutable fact: they work and are incredibly safe. However the anti-vaccination movement, which asserts all sorts of non-scientific dribble, has caused vaccine rates to drop to levels where herd immunity starts to become compromised. This presents a number of challenges as unvaccinated children and adults are not only a threat to themselves but to others who have contact with them. Indeed the problem may be worse than first thought as it appears that even among those who do vaccinate the completion rate is low, with 1 in 3 two year olds in the USA not having completed the recommended vaccination course.
The study, published RTI International (a non-profit research institute based in North Carolina), showed that up until a child was 2 years old the state of their vaccinations was quite fluid. Indeed the vast majority of children weren’t compliant with the required vaccination schedule with most of them receiving a dose outside the recommended window. Upon reaching approximately 24 months of age however most had caught up with the required schedule although a staggering 33% of them were still non-compliant at this age. This might not seem like much of an issue since the majority do eventually get their vaccinations however there are sound scientific reasons for the scheduling of vaccines. Ignoring them has the potential to limit, or completely negate, their efficacy.
The standard vaccine schedule has been developed to maximise the efficacy of vaccines and also to reduce the risk that, should a child contract that disease, potentially life threatening complications are reduced or eliminated. The pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine is estimated to have an extremely high efficacy rate in young children, up to 95%, but that begins to drop off rapidly if the vaccine is administered later in life. Similar efficacy slopes are seen in other childhood disease vaccines such as the combined MMR vaccine. At the same time these vaccines are administered around the time when the potential impacts of the disease are at their greatest. Missing a vaccine at that point runs the risk of severe complications should the disease be contracted at that point.
It’s unsurprising that the study found that the western states had the lowest rates of vaccination as that’s where the anti-vaccination movement has been most active. Just this year there was an outbreak of measles there and the year before that there was a whooping cough epidemic. Interestingly the southern states had the highest rates of vaccination as shown by the snippet of this infographic above. Whilst the anti-vaccination movement is undeniably an influence in the hodge-podge vaccination approach that seems prevalent the blame here lies solely on the parents who aren’t adhering to the vaccination schedule better.
It’s understandable that some of these things can slip as the challenges of being a parent are unending but when it comes to their health there’s really no other competing priority. For parents this means that they’ll need to pay better attention to their doctor’s advice and ensure that the vaccine schedule is adhered to more closely. Additionally the government could readily help in alleviating this issue by developing better reminder systems, ones that are more in tune with the modern parent’s lives. Hopefully these statistics alone will be enough to jar most into action.
It’s no secret that I thought the conscientious objectors exemption for the Family Tax Benefit A vaccination requirement was total bullshit and it infuriated me to no end that what sounded like a great policy ended up being trivialized. The fact of the matter is that whilst you might think that vaccination is a personal decision it is anything but as choosing not to vaccinate puts other people at risk, usually those who are least able to fight off the dangers that you or your children will now present to them. Still the moronic ideal that vaccines somehow cause more harm than they prevent prevailed with a choice group of people, seeing the number of unvaccinated children double in the past decade.
The government was obviously aware of the fact that their legislation was being routinely circumvented by a disturbingly large number of people and just yesterday introduced new legislation dubbed “No Jab, No Pay“. Whilst the crux of the legislation remains the same, people who refuse to vaccinate their children will lose several tax benefits and rebates until they get current, however this new bill removes the get out of jail free card that the conscientious objector exemption provided. Now the only way to get around losing your tax benefits is if you can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons (something that’s extremely rare and would be covered off by herd immunity normally) or if you have a religious reason for doing so.
Thankfully the latter provision has said to be extremely narrow which will most likely derail any attempts the anti-vaxxers have of trying to circumvent it with something as ludicrous as the Church of Conscious Living, a religious group set up specifically for that purpose. Whilst that might not stop anti-vaxxers from joining up some of the more esoteric, but established, religions that have such exemptions I’m sure many of them will be thinking long and hard before they associate themselves with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In any case it will likely force the hands of many to get their children vaccinated so they can receive those benefits from the government, a win-win for all involved if you ask me.
The fact that the government has had to step in like this shows just how serious of an issue the anti-vaxxer movement is becoming. The fact that the number of unvaccinated children has risen so sharply in recent times is cause for alarm on its own however the flow on effects of that are far, far worse. We’re seeing a resurgence in diseases that were essentially considered eradicated in Australia, some of which can have dire consequences for those who don’t have the immunity granted to them through the use of vaccinations. The anti-vax movement will argue that the vaccines do more harm than good or don’t prevent diseases that they say they do however the science simply does not line up with any of the claims they make and yet they continue to perpetuate the myths.
There’s really no argument to be had here, vaccinations work, are incredibly safe and for those precious few who are unable to get vaccinated the benefits of herd immunity will ensure that they will not suffer from the diseases they cannot protect themselves against. The more people that refuse to vaccinate the worse off we will be as a nation as we’ll be once again battling diseases that we would otherwise not have to. The cold hard fact is that vaccines are several orders of magnitude better than the diseases they prevent and to argue otherwise is disregard decades of science, numerous public health studies and your own morality that goes against harming other humans.
If you’re willing to look past all that then you can see why I’m not sympathetic to you losing a few dollars from the government.
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.
So there’s a lot of diseases in the world, ones that were responsible for a lot of human death, that we’d pretty much eradicated. The primary mechanism for this is has been vaccines as they’re the only proven way to guarantee that an individual won’t contract the disease again and, more importantly, not be a carrier for that disease in the future. However there’s a small, determined minority who think that vaccines do more harm than good but they seem to conveniently forget that none of their friends have polio or any other of the myriad of diseases that have been readily preventable for the better part of a century.
That little bugger above, the measles virus, is one of them. I can’t name a single person I’ve known that has had the measles and I can wholly attribute that to the fact that MMR vaccine, the one so many people wrong assume is the cause for autism, has been in widespread use long before I was born. Of course thanks to the misguided efforts of some high profile individuals we’ve ended up with pockets of ignorance which in turn have led to clusters of people who lack these vaccinations. Now it’s been hard to track this as whilst small clusters of outbreaks of certain diseases have occurred in the past there hasn’t been a convenient cluster that’s undergone an epidemic.
That was until just recently of course.
The Eagle Mountain International Church has been known for its skepticism over vaccines and it appears the teachings have not gone unheard in the congregation as many chose to forego vaccinating their children. Then, thanks to someone travelling overseas and then returning home, they were introduced to the wonderful virulent disease is measles. This has since led to at least 10 children becoming infected and, funnily enough, the isolation granted to them by the “protection” of home schooling (which is mandated by the state, since unvaccinated kids can’t be allowed in public schools) was made completely irrelevant by their church going ways.
What’s particularly interesting though is that has then led on to news that the Netherlands is actually suffering through an epidemic of its own (currently down, but the Google cache of it shows all the facts) with over 1160 cases reported. This, conveniently, ties in with their own “bible belt” which is vehemently against vaccination. Those figures are just from May to August for this year as well which means that there’s potentially more out there and it will only continue to increase until all of them are infected.
I’ve talked about herd immunity and how disease spreads in its absence and these outbreaks are a classic example of what happens when people refuse to vaccinate. Make no mistake measles is an entirely preventable disease and its prevalence in these areas is wholly due to their willful ignorance about the efficacy and safety of vaccines. So don’t be daft, don’t buy into whatever malarkey you might have read on the Internet about the dangers of vaccines because the simple fact is they work and these recent outbreaks are proof that failure to use them is doing far more harm than good.
Arguing with facts on your side can sometimes feel like a Sisyphean task, especially on the Internet. For the most part when I claim something on this blog I try to back it up with reputable information sources if I haven’t done the research myself and if I’m talking completely out my ass I try to make that known so you can take that information with the required grain of salt. However when people comment on here I feel obliged to reply to them, even if what they’re saying has no basis in any kind of fact or reality. This can feel like a form of asymmetric warfare at times as the amount of time taken to disprove something is usually an order of magnitude more than what it took to write it in the first place.
Now I don’t usually like to pick on people who make comments here, if you’ve taken the time to post here I feel it’s better to respond to you directly on the post, but some of them simply demand more attention than I’ve already given to them. The one I’m thinking of in particular is this comment where they claim that herd immunity has been debunked, something that’s never been brought forth in any research paper that I’ve been able to track down. As far as I can tell it all comes down to the opinion of a one Dr. Blaylock who’s opinions have always been radically different from the scientific norm. He’s not a scientific dissenter either as many of his claims have been thoroughly debunked by other research but the herd immunity claim seems to remain.
Whilst it would be all well and good for me to simply link to research papers which show case this fact quite well I thought it’d be better to point to something that demonstrates the point visually. The picture above is from this simulation tool which shows the results of what happens when a disease moves through a population. The first couple are interesting to get a feel for how an uncontrolled infection can spread even if only a single person is infected. The latter ones deal with some real life situations and demonstrate quite aptly why herd immunity works and why we’ve started to see small epidemics in isolated populations where they don’t vaccinated their children.
Probably the most shocking revelation I got from this simulation was the existence of Waldorf schools who’s official stance on vaccinations is “we have no official stance” but then immediately goes on to recommend parents don’t vaccinate their kids against a wide spectrum of diseases. Apart from the giant hypocrisy of saying one thing but then encouraging the other this kind of behaviour is inherently dangerous because it will mean there’s a cluster of unvaccinated people in constant contact with one another, a hot bed for a potential epidemic. It’s one thing to claim that but it’s already happened once and there was potential for another outbreak to occur due to the incredibly low vaccination rate. Considering that doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world where vaccination rates are above a certain threshold it’s a timely reminder that herd immunity is real and when its broken the consequences can be devastating.
I would go on but I think I’m preaching to the choir here as whilst the number of comments I get disagreeing with me out numbers those who do I know that if that reflected reality us humans would be in a far worse state, health wise, than we are today. The fact of the matter is that herd immunity is real and works beautifully for protecting those precious few who can not be vaccinated for one reason or another. Failing to vaccinate is not only a bad decision personally it also puts others at risk and that’s the only reason I need to support the current standard of mandated vaccinations.
I don’t have kids and probably won’t for another few years but that doesn’t mean I can’t understand some of the things that parents go through. I used to work in child care back in the day and by far the biggest concern any of the parents had was their child’s health. As a care giver every child’s health was my concern as disease has a tendency to spread rapidly in those situations and one sick kid can mean dozens if not taken care of correctly. This, amongst numerous other reasons, is why I fail to understand why some parents refuse to vaccinate their children as otherwise you’re putting them (and other children) at a great risk.
Now I know the reasons why most parents don’t vaccinate their children. Mostly it has to do with their concern that vaccines, in particular the triple shot MMR, will cause their child to develop an Autism Spectrum Disorder. The controversy surrounding this is well known but it is suffice to say that all the evidence and scientific research shows that vaccines can not and do not lead to ASDs. Any correlation that can be drawn between the two is simply that and can not be used as a basis for causation. The fact of the matter is that so far the only proven cause for autism is genetics and any environmental factors are either still under investigation or have been thoroughly disproved. To say otherwise at this point is unscientific conjecture and it would be reckless to base your child’s health decisions on such things.
The usual retort people have for the decision not to vaccinate is that it’s their decision and they should have the choice to make it. At this point the crazed libertarian in me starts shrieking out in support of them and I’d agree with him, right up until I get to the point of where their decisions start to impact others. Whilst the decision not to vaccinate your child is not only a bad decision for them it’s also a bad thing for society at large. Herd immunity requires a certain number of people to be immune to a disease before the non-immune can benefit from their protection. The anti-vaccination movement has had a big enough impact that for certain diseases we’re actually below that critical threshold and those who can’t be made immune, like those who are too young, end up paying the price.
Thankfully I live in Australia a place where the government has finally decided to hit people who refuse to vaccinate their children where it hurts, in their wallet:
Parents who do not have their children fully immunised will be stripped of family tax benefits under a scheme announced by the Federal Government.
The Government says 11 per cent of five-year-olds are not immunised and has announced a shake-up of the system which will take effect from July 1 next year.
Under the changes, families who refuse vaccinations face losing up to $2,100 per child in benefits.
That number of unvaccinated children is rather scary as the herd immunity level for pertussis (whooping cough) and measles is above that vaccination rate. Now this change won’t convince everyone, there are some that to refuse to vaccinate on principle, but hopefully it will drive the numbers up high enough that it won’t matter any more. As it stands now we’re in danger of seeing a resurgence of these diseases that, to put it simply, we shouldn’t have to.
This isn’t one of those ethical grey areas where you can justify your decision based on whatever you believe in, the fact is that if you’re child isn’t vaccinated they are not only at risk themselves but they also put others at risk. The only time I’d support someone not vaccinating their children is if they kept them away from all other children which I think everyone will agree would be far more damaging to them than a shot in the arm. So if the Australian government isn’t going to entertain the anti-vaccination movement neither should you and if you still feel the need to go against the grain because of some whacky view you saw on the Internet then I’m glad you’re getting slugged for it. Maybe then you’ll think twice about the callous decision you’re making.