Saturday, January 14, 2012

Science Saturday: Polio Vaccine

From NPR: India Marks A Year Free of Polio

And this year was made possible entirely because of the polio vaccine.    High five, polio vaccine.  You rule.

Yet there's this weird trend among a certain group of parents to not vaccinate their children (though, this is the MMR vaccine—Mumps, Measles, and Rubella—and not polio) because of the false belief that the MMR vaccine causes autism.  Except, of course, it doesn't.  The idea was based on a critically flawed study by a British scientist who later came under heavy fire for it (ten of his co-authors repudiated it); ultimately the study was redacted by The Lancet, the journal that originally published the piece.  Oh, and it was fraudulent through and through.

Yet Jenny McCarthy still carries on her crusade against science.

Beyond autism, there's this backwards notion that gets perpetuated (I'm not sure by whom) that vaccines are somehow just plain dangerous. I had a discussion with a coworker once about H1N1—swine flu—and whether or not we would get flu vaccinations.  I opted out, simply because I didn't feel like going to the hospital and dealing with an alien medical process in a foreign language.  I figured I was young and healthy enough to suffer through if I caught it, anyway.  One of my coworkers also decided against getting vaccinated, but because he didn't trust vaccines.

"What does not kill me, makes me stronger."

"But that's exactly what a vaccination is, only it just makes you stronger without getting you really sick first."

He nonetheless persisted in his opinion, so I shrugged and let it drop.  But—what about the children he'll (probably) have?  Will he take the safer route and get them properly vaccinated?  How many other people around the world harbor this idea that vaccinations are somehow more dangerous than the diseases they're designed to prevent?  Apparently enough people in the US buy into this horse pucky that we've had the largest measles outbreak in fifteen years.

Plus, opting out of vaccinations isn't just a question of your health.  It's a question of the health of those around you.  Children and the elderly have notoriously fragile immune systems, not to mention those with medical conditions that lead to depressed immune systems.  The more people come down with an illness, the more likely someone who can't resist it as well will also come down with it.  And if it's an illness that's by and large preventable by vaccination, then certainly there's a certain level of moral obligation involved when it comes to getting vaccinated.

Now that India has more or less eradicated new cases of polio, there's only a few countries left where it's still considered endemic.  I'd like to think that within my lifetime, polio could be completely eradicated, same as we did with smallpox.  But it's going to be a longer time getting there if people keep buying into this "vaccines are dangerous and cause autism!" hysteria.

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