There are few issues I feel commited to enough that I would actually put a bumper sticker on my car, but the importance of vaccines is an exception. I know, I know, I don’t have kids, I’ve already been vaccinated myself, so I’m not exactly in the average demographic of people who get riled up about this issue. BUT. I am currently reading Denialism by Michael Specter, and one of the chapters is about the craziness (denialism) of people who refuse to vaccinate their kids because they fear that 1) vaccines cause autism or 2) that the methyl mercury used as a stabilizer in vaccines is a potential toxin. Both of the above have repeatedly proven to be untrue, in many large and trustworthy studies. The people who refuse to innoculate their children usually are skeptical of the intentions and integrity of the U.S. government, and don’t want to believe in the power and capability of modern science (which has gotten us here in the first place).
For those of you who don’t know much about this issue, refusing to vaccinate kids under two years old for basic, mostly eradicated diseases such as smallpox, measels, mumps and polio not only puts their children in danger, but also endangers the health of all children they encounter. Some children cannot be immunized for other health and/ or religious reasons, but they are typically protected by what is called ‘herd immunity’. Herd immunity means that if about 90% of the population is vaccinated against a disease, they are unlikely to get it, and will therefore protect the unvaccinated among the herd. The fewer vaccinated people, the more quickly herd immunity disappears, and the diseases we thought were history will come back.
This issue was also the subject of the Jan 31st episode of the Colbert Report. He was interviewing Dr. Paul Otis. The interview, of course, was funny, you can watch the whole show here. I just happened to read the comments left under the video, and this one by MichaelS struck me as being really poigniant.
“I’m kind of offended by anyone who don’t get their kids vaccinated because it supposedly causes autism. I’m not offended that they are wrong, I’m offended because I have autism, and I’m a lot happier now than I would be if I had polio. Autism isn’t that big of a problem, it’s only bad for a small minority.”
So, here’s my bumpersticker, if someone wants to print it: “Protect Herd Immunity! Vaccinate your children!”