June 10, 2011 in City

Some folks are missing the point of vaccines

By The Spokesman-Review
 

We’re No. 1. Measles will be overjoyed.

A new report shows that more parents in Washington refused to have their children vaccinated than any other state in the nation. I’d have thought Mississippi would have taken that flag, but no – it’s apparently a different kind of counterculture that drives this particular paranoia, and we’ve got a big dose of it.

In the 2009-’10 school year, 6.2 percent of Washington parents claimed an exemption to vaccination requirements, most of them citing philosophical objections. Idaho was at 3.8 percent. The national average was 1 percent.

This information is courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which you probably know is the gang in charge of supporting, organizing and propagating the lies your doctor tells you. Lies like: Vaccines are responsible for the widespread reduction of a range of diseases like polio, meningitis, chickenpox and measles – lousy, brutal illnesses that most of us don’t even know enough to be scared of. Thanks to vaccines.

Or: Failure to get vaccinated for, say, measles, can help the disease make its way to infants, who are too young to be vaccinated and who account for a significant portion of measles cases and who are at risk for the worst problems. Like, in extreme cases, death.

People are welcome to believe whatever they want, of course. But vaccine paranoia is not solely a personal position. When you decide not to vaccinate your kids, maverick, you’re hurting the rest of the herd, too.

It probably shouldn’t surprise us, here in the land that fluoride forgot, but Spokane County is actually above average for unvaccinated kids – even in league-leading Washington. Our county figure has been around 9 percent for several years, according to an Inlander report.

At some local private schools, like Valley Christian and St. Michael’s School, more than half of kindergartners were unvaccinated, though the classes are small, state Health Department statistics show. Among the Spokane County public schools with the highest rates of nonvaccinated kindergartners are Roosevelt (24.2 percent); Jefferson (14.6); Stevens (14.1) and Whitman (13.8) elementaries.

Experts say that a vaccination rate of about 90 percent is needed to provide widespread protection from fast-spreading disease.

This is not a philosophical debate. Two Washington children died of whooping cough last year, and a state health official says chickenpox outbreaks are a problem because of communities with insufficient protection against infections.

Meanwhile, measles is on a national comeback tour. In the first 19 weeks of 2011, there have been 118 reported cases – the most since 1996. Almost all of these cases involved unvaccinated people, and 40 percent were kids age 4 and younger.

“The most significant factor in the spread of measles in the United States is the increase of pockets of the country where vaccination rates have declined below the level needed to maintain herd immunity,” writes Seth Mnookin, who’s written a book about vaccine controversies, “The Panic Virus.”

The problem with these facts, insofar as their ability to persuade the 6.2 percent, is that they come from the sources that are not to be believed: scientists, the government, doctors, and the media.

Just as with anti-fluoride zealotry, the anti-vaccination movement is passionate, engaged, well-armed with factlike information and – not always but often – slightly off its rocker. Spend a little time “researching” this on the Internet and you’ll quickly run across sites like The Vaccination Racket and Jesus-Is-Savior.com, which has this headline: “VACCINATIONS CAN KILL YOUR BABY!”

Here’s a bit more: “The public has been continually lied to, intimidated, and manipulated via the Media and the doctors! Doctors are threatened with loss of their medical license if they don’t comply to the government’s pressures! Doctors are not allowed to tell you the truth; and in fact, very few of them even know the truth about the vaccinations themselves. They are only taught to push the vaccination program in medical school; they are not taught what the adverse reactions are … .”

There are more sober anti-vaccination arguments out there. But that is the basic template.

On scientific matters, like it or not, we all have to decide who to believe. We can do our own research, weigh facts, and consider arguments, but in a case like this one – or fluoride, global warming or evolution – you eventually run into a wall where one side says one thing and the other side declares the exact opposite.

We have to decide who to believe. Whose stooge to be. The side with virtually everyone who knows about the subject? The one weighed down with all the evidence and science and experts? Or the other one?

Your call. But we live here too, we drinkers of the Kool-Aid, and your choice affects us all.

Part of the reason for Washington’s top national ranking is the ease with which parents can check a box for a philosophical objection when enrolling their kid in school. Officials suspect that some of these are “convenience objections.” We’ll see how right they are soon – a new state law requires parents to provide evidence that they consulted with a medical professional.

Good. Though, honestly, that kind of consultation probably has little hope of working with the true believers. It might make more sense to just offer them another choice: home schooling.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman. com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.


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