We don't know what we don't know
by MICHAEL BRAUNSTEIN
While raging about vaccines, both sides of the aisle seem fraught with emotion. Anti-vaxxers and pro-vaxxers are vehement in supporting their positions. But some people are confused about vaccines and whether they should get them for themselves or their children. Some claims are outlandish. Others simply untrue. There are some common-sense conclusions, though. My observation is that maybe some vaccines make sense and some do not. There is enough misleading information on both sides.
The basic idea makes sense. The idea of perking up the natural immune system by teasing it with a taste of a potential disease seems to make sense. A forewarned immune system should be ready to ward off disease. But are we doing it the right way? If a strong immune system is the goal, there are many ways to do that. Western society has chosen to overprotect. When we try to sterilize our environment for our kids or neutralize every single threat, the immune system is anything but strengthened. Children overly protected from dirt, animals and natural immune system stimulants are more likely to get sick, develop allergies or asthma.
When a disease has a high morbidity, vaccines should make sense even to anti-vaxxers. Bitten by a skunk or bat? Rabies vaccine might be a good idea. Same holds true of a few of the more deadly viral diseases, including polio. But have we gone vaccine-crazy? Fifty doses before age six certainly would seem so.
Misinformation erodes trust in either side. Cherry-picking should be left to bakery chefs, but both camps choose to tout data supporting only their own positions. Doctors are perhaps the worst because they wear the mantle of immediate authority, Dr. Oz notwithstanding.
When one vapid, Playmate “actress” mounts the soapbox spewing anti-vaccine rhetoric, it’s one thing. We can consider the source. But when a lab-coated, stethoscope-wearing, degree-bearing representative of the hallowed medical fraternity takes the podium and touts speculative data culled from “research” bought and paid for by the vaccine manufacturers, then we are being played. One discredited study linking autism and vaccines keeps being cited. Toss that out. But weigh that against dozens of flawed studies by doctors about vaccines and drugs.
It’s understandable that the public questions vaccines when so many medical studies have been influenced by big bucks from Big Pharma. Pro-vaxxer doctors aren’t doing themselves any favors by making exaggerated claims about vaccines.
When docs, institutions and government agencies go on record saying things like, “the flu shot is the best way to keep from getting the flu,” and then we find it’s 23 percent effective at most, how much credibility have they lost? When more vaccinated people get the mumps during an outbreak, more whooping cough-vaccinated people get whooping cough during an outbreak, how believable are those statements that vaccines work? Pro-vaxxers should admit vaccine flaws first, then suggest that they may work — sometimes.
On the other hand, circumstantial evidence linking autism and vaccines isn’t enough to damn the shots.
Rolling the dice. Some diseases are more dangerous than others from the start. Polio is not the same as measles or chickenpox. Yet some seeming innocuous diseases with very low morbidity can still, on very rare occasions, lead to devastating consequences, it’s true. But the reality is, bringing a child into the world is rolling the dice in any case. How many helmets, seat belts, vaccines and sunscreens can you put on them? It will never be enough to eliminate all threat to wellbeing. And overdoing it will definitely be a case of diminishing returns. As individuals and as a society, don’t we have a moral obligation to draw the line somewhere short of the overwhelming demands to make the world 100 percent safe when going too far is actually detrimental?
Is Ebola Vaccine needed? We should all really pay attention now, for the sake of humanity. We saw the worst Ebola virus outbreak in history peak in 2014. The outbreak is near an end, new cases approaching zero. It’s crucial to note that the outbreak ended without the use of a vaccine. Remember that. Yes, there were 23,000 cases and 9,000 deaths from a horrible, painful disease. For perspective, 18 million people die each year from heart disease; deaths that can be prevented by lifestyle and behavior changes, according to the World Health Organization. Let that sink in. Remember that the Ebola outbreak ended without the need of a vaccine. Remember it because, now that the fear factor has been amped up, there are several drug companies working on Ebola vaccines, available very soon. We will be told they are necessary, perhaps even mandatory, even though we can see that an outbreak runs its course naturally.
The Ebola epidemic in Africa is ending because of many natural factors. Sanitation has improved, information is out on how the disease works and is spread. Cultural mores have shifted to consider the disease element. It’s important to note that two countries, Mali and Nigeria, were on the verge of epidemic but stopped it in its tracks without massive American involvement or a vaccine.
The reason it’s important for us to remember that the outbreak ended without the vaccine is that I guarantee you, in 20 years, after use of the Ebola vaccine is commonplace, mainstream medicine and agencies will claim that vaccine stopped the 2014 outbreak.
History gets painted by the people who own the brushes. Multiple studies show that polio in the ‘50s, like Ebola in 2015, was in significant decline before the polio vaccine was available. In fact, after 1961, most cases of polio were attributed to a side effect of the vaccine itself. So the pro-vaxxers and anti-vaxxers are at loggerheads about polio vaccine and its role in the decline of polio in the 1950s outbreak.
Every disease epidemic in human history has declined naturally. Vectors lose inertia. It’s physics. We should temper our hubris with history.
The philosophical question. Are we teaching that the world is inherently a dangerous place when we should be teaching that the world is our home, is safe and we should stop fighting with it? Are we teaching too much of the fear factor? Shouldn’t there be a balance?
Humans try to control nature. Vaccines are an example. We constantly display disdain and disrespect for the holistic nature of existence. We think we’re above nature.
Another question is, if vaccines actually keep those vaccinated safe from disease, then why should it matter if Joe Blow chooses not to get the shot? If you got your shot and believe in it, the why should you worry? Profit motivation is another thorny question. How is it that the government indemnifies vaccine makers from legitimate claims by harmed citizens? Or take billions of taxpayer dollars and buy doses of useless vaccines? When people promoting the vaccines are being paid by the companies developing them, how is that unbiased?
Some vaccines seem to make sense. Some don’t. Some vaccines can make you sick. Consumers and parents should have the right to be informed, not brainwashed, and then make their own choices.