Saturday, February 7, 2015

Get Out Your Pitchforks

I have been trying to be quiet through this latest episode of mass hysteria.  I really have.  But at the risk of raising the wrath of every single one of my friends, I am going to have to speak my mind.  Because that is what I do.

I usually enjoy Chris Hayes' liberal rants.  His young face gets all puffed up and he starts to stutter.  He is outraged, but he tends to wrap his outrage up in reason.  Except when it comes to vaccinations.  Then he becomes the 21st century yuppie parent, screeching about how my kid is going to infect his kid.  And since the latest "measles outbreak" it has been all-measles-all-the-time on All In with Chris Hayes.

It's not just Hayes, though.  For weeks we have been bombarded with the terror inspiring word of "100 cases" of measles, brought about by those bad parents who irresponsibly and selfishly chose not to have their kids vaccinated for measles AND THEN WENT TO DISNEYWORLD.  I have been listening, hard, to these news reports, waiting to hear of the 100 cases spreading into the thousands, or to hear how many of those hundred have died from the disease.  The answer, as far as I can tell, is none.

Then, two days ago, I heard that the worst fears had been realized:  five infants had been confirmed to have measles.  Before I began to write, I gave it one more try.  When I googled "measles," I learned that a "Baby Had Been Confirmed as First Victim in New Jersey."  Oh my god.  It finally happened.

But no.  The report goes on to say that the one-year-old has since recovered.  Everybody in the building, the town, the state and the country, however, has been alerted.  I can be fairly certain that if there had been a death it would be front page everywhere.  Not that it couldn't happen.  But in developed countries, where overall health and hygiene are good, measles is rarely fatal.

For those of you youngsters, like Mr. Hayes, even your parents are not likely to remember when measles was just a childhood disease.  A kid broke out, itched, ran a temperature, and stayed home from school for a week.  And then they got better.

Back in the 80's, when my daughter was born, there was a healthy debate about the value of vaccinations versus allowing natural immunities to develop.  That debate seems to have been hijacked by the debate over vaccines causing autism.  And over the past couple of weeks, even when anti-vaccine proponents have been interviewed, I have not heard a single word spoken about natural immunity.  So here it is.

An infant has a weak and developing immune system.  Nursing contributes to adding mother's immunities to the baby.  And just as a childhood disease like measles is likely to be worse in an adult, healthy babies tend to experience milder symptoms.  When my pre-school daughter got chickenpox at four years old, her six-month-old brother also contracted the disease.  While she itched and had a fever, her brother didn't even notice he was sick.  And they both now have lifetime immunity to chickenpox.

Which brings me to the point that I keep waiting to hear.  If you are vaccinated, you need to be re-vaccinated.  The immunity is temporary.  If you allow this childhood disease to run its course, however, you have immunity for life.  So that pregnant women who have had the measles as children need not fear contracting measles, which is truly dangerous to the development of a fetus.

Now, it also appears that drug companies are griping, and vaccine supporters are touting, the "fact" that drug companies are not making a fortune on vaccine.  A cursory search did not come up with any numbers, and it's true that we don't have to pay much for vaccines.  But drug companies have done an amazing job of hiding the cost -- and the profit -- of the most commonly used drugs.  Government subsidizes a lot of the cost of vaccines, which means drug companies still get paid.  It may be that they don't make the mint that they make on far too many much needed drugs.  But vaccines are the steady, guaranteed profit-maker.  Drug companies are more likely to balk at having to waste money researching more desperately needed vaccines for third world countries than to complain about reaping that steady US vaccine market.

Now, if MSNBC wanted to rant about what is endangering lives in America, they might want to take a look at overmedication.  There was a peep in the media a few years ago about the over prescription of antibiotics, and then it went away.  But in fact, prescribing antibiotics when an illness could just run its course, has led to the development of, oh, let's call it a master race of infections.  And you don't need to be the one taking the antibiotics to reap the rewards of being infected by these master bugs.  And the drug companies continue to make stronger antibiotics and the bugs that survive the drugs continue to get stronger and harder to eradicate.  Much like using Round-Up to kill weeds until you have master weeds that need ever stronger poisons to be killed.

It amazes me when smart people who tend to be rational go nuts.  I am thinking about the hysterics in the 80's over "catching AIDS" (and I hate to admit, I was one of those, although eventually I did succumb to reason).  Or how about last year's ebola scare, when healthy people where coming back from Africa, even parts that were nowhere near the reported outbreaks, and faced anger and outrage and even -- thank you Chris Christie -- quarantine.

The most idiotic argument, the one that is expressed every single time vaccination is "discussed" is that your unvaccinated kid is going to endanger my vaccinated kid.  Well, no.  If your kid is vaccinated, and the thing works the way you claim it works, your kid will be spared the scourge of the dreaded measles.  Or, if the kid comes down with the measles, it should be a mild version, and (if you're really lucky) it will be enough to immunize the child for life.  Wouldn't that be grand.

Anyway, I would like to conclude by saying:

JUST CALM DOWN.  If we were poor people who lived with poor health and poor hygiene, our children would be more vulnerable to extreme symptoms.  In that case, I would say, by all means get the vaccine.  And if you really believe that drugs trumps the body's ability to fight any disease, go for it.  But please stop trying to make it sound like children are dying in the streets from this disease.  Be smug in your superior parenting if you like, but stop trying to make it sound like people who disagree with you are arming themselves with deadly germs and coming after your kids.

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