Vaccines – Some Perspective Please!

Recently there has been an increase in the number of crying mothers calling our office looking to transfer their children to our practice because of the unpleasant way they were treated by the doctors where they were taking their children for well child care. I am hearing reports of doctors telling parents their children will die if they do not get immunized and also claims that vaccines will protect their children from routine respiratory illness.

There was an editorial published in the Spring 2014 edition of South Carolina Family Physician    In this editorial, Dr. H. Griffin Cupstid, a family physician from Spartanburg, insulted the intelligence of those who questioned the benefit/safety value of vaccines, advocated for an increase in the police state and called for war against the dangerous parents who were not immunizing their children.

We are seeing ever increasingly strident physicians. We now have official editorials advocating for stomping on freedom, the abandonment of informed consent (a supposed bedrock of contemporary medical ethics) and the societal rejection of anyone who does not agree with the current official position on vaccines. (By the way, once you take that step, it is only a small step to the state taking non-vaccinated children away from parents “to protect the children.”)

Based on the increasingly hysterical attitudes and actions of the majority crowd towards the non vaccinating families, it seems there must be some kind of terrible thing occuring, that requires extreme measures to stop it. Is this what is happening? Let’s look at some statistics.

During the preschool years, children are routinely vaccinated against twelve different illnesses. Out of these twelve, over the last few years there has been an increase in the incidence of measles and pertussis (whooping cough) and that is what is being used to justify the increasingly strident position of the majority of the medical community. Here are the details.

First of all measles. After a recent record high in 2011, measles cases were down to just 54 in 2012, but were up again to at least 189 cases in 2013. There will be well over 200 cases in 2014. Of these, there have been several cases of encephalitis (a brain damaging complication), but no cases of death.

In the case of pertussis, after a low of 1,000 reported cases in 1976, it has steadily risen to 48,000 reported cases in 2012 and the real number was certainly much higher. Pertussis is certainly a frightening illness and I would immunize my children against it, but at this point, it is not killing people in significant numbers. There was a death of a six month old from pertussis in February 2014 and that was the first case of a death since 2010. Even one unnecessary death is tragic, but let’s have some perspective.

In comparison to these numbers are some other statistics. Every year, in the United States, there are over 1,000 children who die from drowning and almost 7,000 who die in motor vehicle accidents. On top of these are the many more who are seriously injured. If we look at all ages, each year there are over 10 million motor vehicle accidents and over 30,000 fatalities or 11 deaths per 100,000 population.

The incidence of measles and pertussis has gone up for multiple reasons. Factors contributing to this increase in disease include: worldwide fluctuation in the incidence of the disease, diminished efficacy of the vaccines being given, changes in the biology of the diseases and yes lowered rates of vaccination. Nevertheless, even if the increase in disease incidence were 100% a result of “ignorant” parents refusing to vaccinate their children, the numbers are still microscopic in comparison to drowning and car accidents.

If we are so concerned about the well being of children, why are there no calls for the outlawing of swimming pools and motor vehicles?   Far more children are injured and killed by abusive parents than children who get sick and die, because they have parents who do not immunize. Where is the medical community outrage over the courts returning children to seriously abusive parents?   While the decline in vaccine rates is a legitimate concern, it seems disingenuous to attack these parents and advocate the loss of freedom over an action whose consequences barely register in comparison to so many other risks. How is it ethical, when pediatricians refuse to care for children who are not immunized? Are you trying to tell me the doctors are refusing care out of concern for the well being of the child, by saying it is better that the child receive no care?

The parents who are refusing to vaccinate their children are not refusing out of neglect or ignorance. They are refusing out of fear for their children’s safety. You do not counteract that fear by bullying them, casting aspersions on them or threatening them. Giving them vague asssurances that vaccines have no risks is illogical, because everything we do has risks, so it does not help. Citing the CDC is not helpful, because the CDC is part of a government that lies to its citizens routinely and has a vested interest in maintaining immunization rates. Claiming current scientific theory is unchangeable truth is not going to work, because everyone knows scientific teaching changes constantly.

What will win the day is respectfully listening to their concerns. Calmly giving your viewpoint, when they want it. Avoid exaggerated claims of risks and benefits on both sides of the equation.   Allow them to immunize, when they feel safe, as a majority will eventually at least partially immunize. Most importantly, accept the fact that we do not all have to think and act the same. That is what used to be called America.