Forget cool, vaccines are awesome! Sure, vaccines can help individuals protect themselves against preventable diseases, but even more importantly, vaccines can slow and sometime stop the spread of disease in populations.
Some people cannot receive some vaccines due to allergies or conditions that counterindicate vaccination. Some people choose to not get vaccinated out of fear and ignorance of the science and safety of vaccines. Some people are outside of a vaccine’s intended use age range – i.e., they’re too young or too old to be vaccinated for a particular disease. And some people don’t know (or remember) that booster shots are required for some vaccines, and that without these boosters they lose the protection conferred by the original vaccination over time.
By being vaccinated when you’re able, you are volunteering to be one brick in a wall that keeps disease away from those who are not – for whatever reason – vaccinated. The taller the wall and the fewer holes that are in that wall means disease has less of a chance to get through to those unvaccinated individuals and groups who are hanging out behind our wall.
When there are chinks in the wall, there’s a a chance for infection to spread. Healthy non-vaccinating people who are exposed to a preventable disease may suffer a minor illness, but in turn they might expose elderly, infant or immunocompromised people who may experience a much more severe reaction to the infection.
I admit that this past winter was the first time I received the seasonal flu shot (I also received the H1N1 shot). I was of the opinion that I’d rather take my chances of having a run-in with the flu “in the wild” than to knowingly put flu virus in my body and possibly get sick that way. Also, the flu virus is constantly evolving, and I thought that the chances of being vaccinated for the particular strain I might be exposed to was a little like playing the lottery. Well guess what? It turns out virologists and people who make vaccines actually know a little something about virology and making vaccines.*
This is the experience – The Moment! – that lead me to learning more about vaccination: Around May of last year I had a friend tell me that she hadn’t immunized her children because vaccines weren’t safe. I asked her how she’d feel if her kid got sick, or got sick and spread something around their school, and she told me something to the effect of “Oh, she won’t get sick because everyone else in the school gets vaccinated; we claimed an ethical exemption. And because everyone else is vaccinated, even if she were to get sick she couldn’t spread it to any of them.”
To quote an internet meme:
Seriously????? I asked her what if other parents also claimed an ethical exemption. Her response was, “That’s really unlikely.”
It was around this time that I discovered Dr. Mark Crislip and the ScienceBasedMedicine blog, and I ran across Dr. Crislip’s A Budget of Dumb Asses, in which he describes 10 fallacious arguments for not getting the seasonal flu shot. A Budget of Dumb Asses was a bit of a revelation and turning point for me; it blends sarcasm, mockery and critical thinking, and most importantly it influenced me to change my personal stance on the importance of getting vaccinated for the seasonal flu.
So in the past year I’ve become a big supporter and a bit of a nerd about vaccination. I’d also consider myself an anti-anti-vaxer. I try to keep my eyes and ears open for news about vaccine controversy and the anti-vaccination efforts here in the US and across the world.
Here are a couple of recent vaccine and flu stories that recently caught my eye:
Pertussis (whooping cough), is a prime example of a disease that requires booster doses – every 10 years for adults – to maintain immunization. In this clip a reporter from CNN explains why. There is a news article associated with the clip, and below is one of my favorite quotes, because I believe Dr. Shu captures the essence of why anti-vax movements prosper:
Young parents today have probably never seen illnesses such as whooping cough, so for them it’s “out of sight, out of mind,” Shu said.
“When you don’t see kids getting sick regularly because the vaccines are doing so well, then you kind of think that kids aren’t at risk for them,” Shu said. “But if we drop our guard, they are.”
Of course the most amusing and distressing part of any article about vaccination is the comments section, where the morons and the people arguing with the morons (sometimes mornons themselves!) duke it out. Note how I didn’t assign “moron” to any particular viewpoint…there are definitely morons on both sides of this issue.
A newsclip featuring Elyse Anders from Skepchick speaking about her one of her favorite topics:
And finally, an brief NPR story from this past Tuesday about the end of the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic as declared by the World Health Organization. The end of the pandemic, people, not the end of H1N1. From WHO:
Based on experience with past pandemics, we expect the H1N1 virus to take on the behaviour of a seasonal influenza virus and continue to circulate for some years to come.
So listen up this fall and winter and make sure to get vaccinated as recommended by your doctor, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.
*Flu virus in vaccine is dead virus and can’t give one the flu. Regarding strains and how “they” choose which strains to include in the annual vaccine, see these paragraphs from the CDC on antigenic drift and shift.