Thursday, July 7, 2016

Measles stirs debate between vaccinators and antivaxxors

This column came about by accident. Here's what happened. I saw a graphic that said:
  • In the past 10 years in the U.S., the number of deaths caused by measles = 0
  • In the past 10 years in the U.S., the number of deaths caused by the measles vaccine = 108.
I thought that was interesting, so I posted it to my Facebook profile. I had no idea the issue was so controversial. Several people replied, in effect, 
‘Vaccination is vital to kids’ health, and failing to vaccinate your kids is as bad as child abuse.’
Several others replied, basically, 
‘Vaccination is a scam being perpetrated by Big Pharma, and you’re stupid if you vaccinate your kids.’
Wow! Well, anything that involves kids is bound to be an emotional issue. But you can see why I had to look into it. Here's what I found.
Most of us want what’s best for others… well, let’s be honest, most of us want what’s best for us, but by extension that includes what’s best for our kids, and we certainly want to spare our kids from sickness if we can. And in the litigious society in which we live, some take that idea to the extreme:
‘If my kid experiences any discomfort at all, I want to know who to blame.’
Consequently, there has been a backlash against the “antivaxxers” that goes like this:
‘If you don’t get your kid vaccinated, my kid will get sick and it will be YOUR FAULT.’
The huge flaw in that logic is that, if you’re so sure the vaccine works, and your kid gets vaccinated, then why should you care whether my kid is vaccinated? Yours is protected, right? How can my unvaccinated kid give your vaccinated kid measles?
But they are ready with another salvo:
‘Kids can’t be vaccinated until they’re 12 months old. These poor babies are vulnerable to your unvaccinated kids!’
That sounds scary. Except: babies have the same measles immunity as their moms, so if Mom is vaccinated... again, why are you worried about my kid?
How about this one:
'People die from measles!'
How dangerous is measles, anyway?
Worldwide, 1 out of 1000 cases of measles develops into encephalitis. Six out of 1000 cases of measles WORLDWIDE progress to pneumonia. That is pretty serious. However, in the U.S. measles was virtually stamped out by the year 2000. There were 60 cases per year on average from 2000 to 2012. From January 2012 through August 2013, there were 159 cases, a slight rise from the 60-per-year average (part of what has gotten people stirred up.) Of those, “157 (99%) were import-associated, and two had an unknown source,” according to the CDC. Of the 159, thirteen (8%) had been vaccinated.
Say what you want, but there are certain conclusions to be drawn from that data.
To keep the health care system honest, the federal government set up a program called VAERS – Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System – in which health care professionals are required to report all adverse reactions to vaccines, no matter how minor. (You may want to stop here and ask yourself: If vaccines are completely safe, why does VAERS exist?) In one report a couple years ago that followed a typical seasonal administration of a flu vaccine, there were 8,200 adverse events reported. Most of them were minor; but 604 of them (7%) were deemed serious, from permanent disability to death. 604 is more than all the people in the U.S. who contracted measles in ten years, put together. And 28 of those 604 died. I would call that an adverse reaction.
The MMR vaccine is made by Merck, the same company that denied reports of dangerous cardiac side effects of their Vioxx drug for years, before finally recalling it in 2004 and paying a fine of $950 million.
With drugs like VioxxLipator and Gardisil, we assume Merck has a profit motive, and we’re fine with that. We know they didn’t go into business for their health, they sell drugs to make money. So why should we suddenly forget about their profit motive when we talk about the MMR vaccine? They sell millions of doses to the CDC for $19.91 each. Your doctor pays them even more, $56 a dose. Good for them, if it’s legitimate. But should we not at least question whether they might possibly have an ulterior motive in telling everyone they must have the MMR vaccine, that it's perfectly safe, that it's safer to get it than to get the measles?
Wouldn’t it make good business sense, from their point of view, to persuade the CDC that everyone in the U.S. should be vaccinated? Could a company that can afford to pay a $950 million fine afford to pay someone at the CDC a few million to say 'People are going to die if they don't get the MMR vaccine!' Would such a company shrink from the idea of rewarding a few reporters for screaming, 'There is a measles epidemic brewing!'
For you or me, it would be unthinkable to sell a product that didn’t do what it claimed. Even more unthinkable would be selling a product that we know would harm one out of a thousand, or one out of ten thousand, of the people who bought it. So it is probably hard to imagine a company doing so. You and I may make such judgments based on our conscience, but most publicly held companies are answerable to no moral compass other than the bottom line.
According to the CDC, “Several severe problems have been reported following MMR vaccine. These include severe allergic reactions (fewer than 4 per million), and problems such as:
• Deafness.
• Long-term seizures, coma, lowered consciousness.
• Permanent brain damage.”
“Fewer than 4 per million” doesn’t sound too bad when you say it like that, until you do the math: There are 300 million people in the U.S. The CDC wants us ALL to be vaccinated. They are fine with 1,200 of us suffering from “Deafness, long-term seizures, coma, lowered consciousness, or permanent brain damage…”
Just as long as we spare those 60 kids from getting measles...
Please leave a comment.
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