WHY ARE CONSEQUENCES ONLY IMPORTANT ON ONE SIDE OF THE STORY?
The desire to oversimplify complicated issues leads to the tagging of anyone who might question the safety of the one-size-fits-all vaccination policy as an “anti-vaxxer.” The moral myopia required to use such a misleading moniker and maintain a straight face while doing so is staggering. It is nothing short of the demonization of concerned parents, physicians and scientists who are only asking legitimate questions.
What we hear are broad moralizations about how casting doubt on the vaccination program disrupts herd immunity, leading to the rise of dreaded disease and the death of children. One must first ask if there really is a rise in diseases such as measles among the population of, for the most part, vaccinated children? I am always suspicious of any answer that comes to us courtesy of epidemiology, a peculiar science in which results are completely dependent upon the manner in which the researchers decide to classify data.
Assuming there has been a rise in certain diseases like measles, is that rise due to a relatively small population that is avoiding vaccination, or is it the development of new strains that are resistant to any immunity flowing from inoculation? (Keep in mind that the same people who make the connection between unvaccinated kids and outbreaks of measles are the same guys who always tell us that correlation does not mean causation.) A similar question must be asked about whether the newly diagnosed cases of measles are necessarily more deadly than what we saw before the development of vaccines; this is a malady that was considered a normal part of childhood when I was growing up.
Am I completely off-base here? Let’s look at outbreaks of polio that have arisen on occasion in recent years. At first, we always hear how this was caused by a breakdown in herd immunity because some children weren’t getting vaccinated. Then comes the news that the strain of polio that had been diagnosed actually originated with the vaccine itself. (See, e.g., here, here, here and here). Although the authorities all emphasize that the outbreak is primarily among the unvaccinated, the question must still be raised. Why should the eradication of a “wild” disease result in the creation of a new disease?
But let’s leave aside the question of disease outbreak. Let’s assume that having a relatively small subpopulation of children avoid particular vaccinations might result in isolated outbreaks of disease and perhaps even death. I’m not buying it, but let’s assume it for the sake of a full discussion. Why are those consequences more egregious than the consequences that sometimes flow from receiving routine vaccinations?
Why do some people feel outrage over the death or hardship to a child who contracts a “vaccine-preventable” disease, but not one tear is shed over Elias Tembenis? Elias had his life cut short by the DTaP vaccine. The Vaccine Court did not want to address whether or not his all-too-brief life was made harder by autism brought on by vaccines, but the Special Master had to concede that his epilepsy and seizures, which led to his death, were the direct result of a vaccine reaction (pdf of decision here).
The Tembenis family, who strive every day to have their lost son live through their own good works, are not alone. The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has awarded billions for death and injury directly caused by vaccine reactions. That money, however, can never repair the damage done.
And then there’s the damage and death that won’t be acknowledged because the cost to the vaccination program would be too great. How many young girls must die because their parents thought they were protecting them from cancer by immunizing them from a STD? How many other girls who get the Gardasil vaccine will live a life filled with suffering in the name of some “greater good,” like the daughter of Amy Pingel?
Then there’s autism. Despite the best efforts of the public-health/pharmaceutical complex to declare the debate over, we still have not determined once and for all what role might have been ⎯ and might still be ⎯ played by vaccinations in the environmental triggering of the ASD epidemic. If those of us who believe that role is significant are correct, then the denialists have a lot of blood on their hands, for there have been far too many lives lost to autism.
I am not asking for anyone to change their mind if they truly believe that the costs of the vaccination program outweigh the risks. It is clear that many of those people understand that vaccines can and do cause wrong, but they think the sacrifice is worth it. I have to say, though, that they scare me more than those who are only in the argument to protect profits. The willingness to ignore the harm is no less disingenuous just because they think they’re right.
If people like that truly believe that the children whose lives have been ruined or even taken by vaccine reactions are regrettable collateral damage whose sacrifice serves the greater good, they should at least have the decency to acknowledge that sacrifice. They should be willing to stand face-to-face with Harry and Gina Tembenis, and with Amy Pingel and her daughter, and explain why they think the sacrifice served society.
And if there’s anyone out there who thinks their child was harmed because some other child didn’t get fully vaccinated, I’ll be glad to talk to them and share with them the stories of countless children who have been harmed. To be unwilling to do so would be hypocritical.