Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Controversy Corner: To Vaccinate or Not To Vaccinate

My earliest memories of needles only dates back to junior high. We were called down to the nurses office in groups to receive a vaccination that came in three doses spread over the year. I wasn't nervous at first, but as I watched each twisted face and heard each involuntary shriek, my mind started to work against me. My bicep was about to be mutilated by this horrible object no bigger than a pencil. Shortly after my injection, my symptoms started to catch up with me. My arm was hot and swollen, it felt a little numb... in fact, I felt quite faint! That is, until the pizza was delivered.

It's funny the tricks you can play on yourself, and in the interest of being a good parent. In recent history certain celebrities and special interest groups have been lobbying against standardized vaccinations. From terrible outbreaks of the illness we are trying to avoid, to serious cognitive repercussions like Autism, they claim that the needles do far more harm than good. The science behind these controversial claims, largely published in the now infamous Lancet article, has recently been heavily criticized (if not outright debunked), but there are still parents who question the government sponsored immunization schedule.

According to WebMD, "Measles is an infectious disease that causes a red, non-itchy rash over most of the body and severe flu-like symptoms with a high fever." It is a serious illness, that does claim lives every year. Why you would want to risk this for your family, I don't know. However, out of respect for informed decision making, we have researched how this anti-vaccination movement started and what the leading health organizations are doing in the interest of protecting our health.

Anti-vaccination activism as been around for a very long time. According to, The Anti-Vaccination Society of America was founded in 1879 in response to the states enacting vaccination mandates and with the belief that it "is undignified" to mandate vaccinations and that the "efficacy of vaccination as a disease preventative is a matter of individual opinion." Efficacy has long been proven with a barrage of medical tests as each strain was developed, but the supposed indignity? This violation of the individual's right to choose (infringement on religious or autonomous rights) what's best for ones children remains one of the largest reasons to not inoculate. I have to wonder, however, if you had all the information, would you not choose to protect your family?

More recently, however, the major concern divides into fear of the unknown/dangerous/ potentially immoral ingredients and the possible side effects. There have been hundreds of international court cases claiming cognitive delays, and even Autism caused by the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine specifically. Wikipedia notes "In the United States, Jenny McCarthy blamed vaccinations for her son Evan's disorders and leveraged her celebrity status to warn parents of a link between vaccines and autism. Evan's disorder began with seizures and his improvement occurred after the seizures were treated, symptoms experts have noted are more consistent with Landau–Kleffner syndrome, often misdiagnosed as autism. After the Lancet article was discredited, McCarthy continued to defend Wakefield."

The cost of this anti-vaccination movement has been staggering in a few short years. Certain diseases which were considered practically dead to modern risk, returned with devastating results, including a major measles outbreak at Disneyland. I think the National Post sums up my opinions on the matter very well "Most often... travel notices pop up to alert Canadians to health risks in countries where a dearth of clean water, sanitary supplies or reliable medical care facilitate the easy spread of infectious diseases. The United States, generally speaking, has none of these problems. What it does have — along with Canada and many other Western countries — is the scourge of misinformation, which has allowed the spread of diseases once thought to be eradicated by modern medicine." A common comment made by those who contracted the illness was of how unaware they were of the severity of the discomfort. It is not a easy pain to suffer by any means.

World Health Organization has done a quite a bit to try to undo the damage, including new recommendations for immunization week in Europe. They have produced a straightforward document titled "Seven Key Reasons Why immunization must remain a priority in the WHO European Region," accompanied by world statistics on the diseases preventable with current scientific advancements. Of note is item #4: Diseases can be controlled and eliminated. The concrete information provided is certainly food for thought for any doubting mother. I am firmly of the belief that the standardized immunization schedule of any country is not put together lightly. It is a huge cost, both in terms of the research and production undertaking, and the cost of any potential risk to the lives of the population. We have access to well researched, well tested, medical advances that many countries would so gratefully have.

My doctor told me just recently that measles went from eradicated in 2000, to thousands of cases currently confirmed. This includes 5 cases in the greater Toronto area at the time this was written. While your child is too young for vaccination, it can be very hard to protect them. Be aware of any areas that have known outbreaks and try not to expose your baby to people with rashes. I know that's a little extreme, and hard to do, but that's about the best you can do. If you are still worried about immunizing your child, inform yourself and discuss your concerns with your physician. You might find that the hype was just that.

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