The Anti-Vaxers

“San Francisco is the only city I can think of that can survive all the things you people are doing to it and still look beautiful.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

 

This post is aimed at folks like me who did get their flu shot even though it’s not as effective as usual this year.  Under no circumstances should the post be allowed to fall into the hands of anti-vaxers, the reason for which will become apparent at the end.

I’m a staunch believer in vaccination, at least partly because i’m in my late seventies and can thus remember a childhood during which i cycled through all the common childhood diseases against which children with intelligent parents are now routinely vaccinated even though the death rate from those diseases is quite low.

For example, the vaccine for chicken pox was introduced in 1995 in this country, after which incidences of it declined precipitously.  The death rate, formerly around 100 per annum, has plunged in recent years to single digits.  The fringe benefit for being vaccinated against chickenpox is that you will never develop shingles, a horribly painful disease that occurs spontaneously only in people who have had chicken pox.  There has been a vaccine against shingles since 2006, and it is recommended for adults over 50 since virtually all of ’em had chickenpox as children.

Or take measles, for which we have had a vaccine since 1963.  Before then we had 450-500 deaths every year.  Since then, the death rate has plunged to nearly zero because the disease has been virtually wiped out in this country.  That death rate did not include the kids who were merely struck deaf.

I survived both measles and chickenpox, although the most miserable week of my life was when i had chickenpox, driven crazy by the itching and also by the thirst, which had to go unrelieved because i vomited right back up every sip of water.

The only vaccinations available when i was a kid were for yellow fever, smallpox and diphtheria.    Diphtheria killed 15,000 Americans in 1921, but a vaccine was developed in 1923 and the death rate since then has declined to virtually zero. Smallpox had been by that time almost completely wiped out in this country by almost universal vaccination.  In fact, the last death in this country was in 1949, and routine vaccination was stopped in the early seventies.  It was declared globally eradicated in 1980, a wonderful victory for vaccination since this horrible disease is estimated to have killed 300-500 million people worldwide in the 20th century (before 1980) alone.  During the 18th and 19th centuries, yellow fever epidemics killed thousands of people in coastal cities (and up the Mississippi River at least as far as Memphis) but quarantining had so reduced infections that the last death in this country was in 1905, so even though a vaccine became available in 1938, my parents didn’t vaccinate me.

The vaccination i was most eager to get as a child was for polio, since this country was swept with epidemics in the forties and fifties, with annual deaths ranging from 1000 to 3000 and many, many more left with varying degrees of permanent paralysis.  There was a particularly frightening epidemic in west Texas in 1953, so scary that many people stopped going to the movies, public swimming pools, and public events, and some parents even kept their kids out of school.  Consequently, when Salk’s vaccine became available in 1955 there were no anti-vaxers in west Texas and we all rushed to get it since by that time we all knew or knew of someone who’d died or been paralyzed.

However, nothing is free.  Vaccines have negative results in some cases, usually a very small number.  The most horrible example of this occurred with the Salk polio vaccine, when some batches of this vaccine made by both Cutter and Merck were bad and actually caused many recipients to develop polio.  The Sabin vaccine, which appeared in 1961 was a vast improvement in that only 1-3 recipients in a million contact polio from it.

I received the Salk vaccine and had no ill effects, but i can claim to be a victim of a bad vaccine batch.  I was in ROTC in college, and in our last year of training we were all sent off to Reese Air Force Base one afternoon for a complete set of inoculations including several for diseases no longer found in this country.  However, by dinnertime i was not feeling at all well and took to my bed, skipping supper.  I was missed.  Not because i was so popular that everyone would remark on my absence.  No, it was because none of us who were in ROTC showed up for dinner since we were all miserable in our beds that evening.  Yep, don’t know which one it was, but one of those shots was from a bad batch.

So yes, vaccines sometimes make people sick, and on very very rare occasions they kill people.  But lets play the odds.  Vaccines have prevented untold millions of deaths while doing proportionally very little harm.  Rates are way, way down for all the childhood diseases for which we have vaccines. Smallpox has been eradicated from the planet.  Polio has been almost eradicated, by now residing only in particularly stupid areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan where there is an active anti-vax movement.

The anti-vaxers’ vociferous promotion of their campaign against vaccination took off several years ago when a now thoroughly discredited 1998 study in Britain found that children who were given the MMR vaccine were more likely to become autistic and to have bowel disorders than kids who weren’t.   Almost immediately, there was criticism of the study because no other researcher was able to duplicate the results.  And then, it was uncovered that the doctor who led the study had performed unnecessary procedures on some of the kids he was studying and had received more than £400,000 from lawyers pushing a lawsuit against the MMR vaccine, so his license to practice medicine was withdrawn and he moved to the US where, in spite of his having no license, he found a nation with a higher percentage of gullible people and is now a leading anti-vaxer.

Alas, exposing the fraudulence of that doctor and his study does not seem to have slowed the anti-vaxers down.

“Going up against the anti-vaccine movement is a thankless task for a number of reasons. For one, the goalpost is moving,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and dean of the school of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

“So if you can explain why MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine doesn’t cause autism, they’ll turn around and say well it must be thimerosal in vaccines. If you debunk this, then they’ll say ‘well we are spacing vaccines too close together’ and if you debunk that and then it’s aluminum in vaccines,” he added.

So what we have in the anti-vaxers is a bunch of idiots like global warming deniers, utterly unimpressed with factual science, .  The only difference i can see is that the global warming deniers are being sheltered by the Republican party and funded by Exxon and the Koch brothers.

If the anti-vaxers are sufficiently successful in recruiting, they’ll get enough folks to stop vaccinating their kids that the herd immunity effect will be lost and epidemics will sweep the nation.

That’s the reason i don’t want anti-vaxers to read this post.  They are doing themselves a serious disservice by bombarding the social media with anti-vax propaganda.  Why?  Well, if they had any sense, they would keep their mouths shut, not vaccinate their children, and send their kids out to schools in which all the other students are vaccinated, thus getting a free ride on the herd immunity.  After all, if all the other students are vaccinated, their kids will much less likely to be exposed to any of the childhood diseases.

It somehow gives me a sick pleasure to see that they’re too stupid to understand that once their propaganda has spread and the herd immunity in their communities is compromised, it will be their unvaccinated children who will be the primary victims in the ensuing epidemics, reaping the just reward of their parents’ foolishness.  I’ll do my best to avoid schadenfreude.

 

Meanwhile, i’ve started taking Harrison Street downtown and have discovered Garfield Park, where many years ago (perhaps at the inception in 1884) the city planted around the edges Sequoiadendron giganteum, the giant redwood.  It’s a joy that they’ve survived since this is not their native habitat, and some trees have done better than others.  The trunk of the largest must be twenty feet in diameter, and i’d estimate its height to be eighty to ninety feet.  Take a look, starting with a cone.

And the largest one.

And its massive trunk

 

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