“Parents ought to make sure their children are vaccinated. Do we need to get into any detail on that?” [Jeb] Bush said bluntly in a speech before the Detroit Economic Club. “Parents have a responsibility to make sure their children are protected. Over and out.”
Let me start by telling you that I am not and never have been a supporter of Jeb Bush. However, I concur completely and absolutely with his position on the above issue.
Let me go one step further and tell you that I am the mother of a son with autism. Much remains unknown about the origins and etiology of this disability, but there has been great speculation as to whether or not vaccines play a role. I feel that it is entirely possible that they may be contributory. However, without understanding the impact that they can or do have, I cannot vilify our system of immunizations.
Let’s start with the basics. What are vaccines? We know that they are designed to prevent or mitigate certain illnesses, but how do they work?
Vaccines work in much the same way that allergy shots do. Typically, the offending agent (in the case of vaccines, the offender tends to be a virus or bacteria) is identified and its capsule is isolated. The capsule contains protein groups and structures known as antigens.
Antigens are surface components which trigger the immune response. These are the elements that the host (that would be you or me) identifies as foreign and noxious. The very first thing that our immune systems put into play are another type of protein structure called an anti-body. Molecularly, this protein looks like a “Y”. Its configuration allows it to easily attach to and “tag” the antigen to which it is directed. More and more anti-bodies are produced which envelop the bacteria or viral particle and identify it as an invader.
Now that the initial anti-body response has played reconnaissance on our behalf, white blood cells can be recruited and will release a number of chemicals, enzymes and inflammatory agents that are designed to destroy the offender.
The very amazing thing about our bodies is that we have the ability to produce anti-bodies which are specific to each antigen that we encounter. We have the capacity to produce MILLIONS of different anti-bodies, and within those categories, we can produce millions of anti- bodies against a single antigen.
This is our normal immune response.
Immunizations exploit this process by removing certain antigens from a viral or bacterial capsule, purifying them and inoculating us with them. Because we typically are not being introduced to the entire microbial entity (or if we are, it has been purified), we do not develop the illness with which that microbe is associated.
Instead, we start to produce an initial set of defending anti-bodies against the antigen. Should we ever come into contact with the actual virus or bacteria, we now have the ability to mount a rapid and effective response that prevents us from becoming infected, or, at the very least, minimizes the extent to which the infection debilitates us.
What we do know, and often forget, is that the diseases against which we are being protected are annihilators. These diseases have long histories of causing overwhelming death and suffering. For the few who have happened to survive many of these infections, they were almost NEVER left without some significant and permanent sequelae.
Often I hear patients and occasionally friends, hurl some very harsh criticisms at our system of immunization, or give a variety of excuses for why their children are not immunized. Everything from: conspiracy theories to the myth that vaccines actually cause the illnesses that they are designed to prevent; to the notion that they want their children to develop natural immunity (which, by the way, is the same as infection); to the concern that their child might suffer a complication like a rash… I have heard it all. And sometimes it’s all that I can do to remain professional. And then I remember that, as informed as many people are, there may be some very basic things of which they are not aware. This, not only includes true and accurate information regarding vaccines, but is also inclusive of the afflictions that they help to prevent.
Let’s talk about our most commonly used vaccines. If you currently are raising or have previously raised children, you may recognize abbreviations like DTAP, MMR, IPV. These are the immuni-zations that a child often receives according to a specific schedule, and typically at certain ages. They refer to Diptheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Measles, Mumps, Rubella and Polio. Chicken Pox and Hepatitis B are also standard immunizations offered to the pediatric population.
I won’t simply tell you that Diptheria can cause heart dysfunction, kidney disease, paralysis and death… which often occurs by strangulation; or that Pertussis can lead to broken ribs and severed vertebral arteries from violent spasms of coughing, but can also cause pneumonia, seizures and encephalopathy. I won’t remind you that complications of Rubella include: brain bleeding, cataracts, glaucoma, heart defects and hearing loss… or that these complications are far more likely to occur in infants.
Perhaps those things do not move you. If not, please consider that prior to vaccines, the following things occurred:
“There was a pandemic of rubella between 1962 and 1965, starting in Europe and spreading to the United States. In the years 1964–65, the United States had an estimated 12.5 million rubella cases. This led to 11,000 miscarriages or therapeutic abortions and 20,000 cases of congenital rubella syndrome. Of these, 2,100 died as neonates, 12,000 were deaf, 3,580 were blind, and 1,800 were mentally retarded. In New York alone, CRS affected 1% of all births.”
Polio was another destroyer. It is believed to have existed since ancient times, with tribute being paid it via hieroglyphic images mirroring the lower extremity debility that it often caused. It is believed that there were sporadic yet contained outbreaks for centuries, until the 20th century, when the first epidemic was placed on record.
In the late 19th century, Polio outbreaks began to occur. This phenomenon progressed and worsened so that once it reached its climax between 1940 and 1950, it was killing over half a million people… per year.
“The 1916 epidemic caused widespread panic and thousands fled the city to nearby mountain resorts; movie theaters were closed, meetings were canceled, public gatherings were almost nonexistent, and children were warned not to drink from water fountains, and told to avoid amusement parks, swimming pools, and beaches. From 1916 onward, a polio epidemic appeared each summer in at least one part of the country, with the most serious occurring in the 1940s and 1950s”
–Clinical Microbiology Reviews
“Polio was a plague. One day you had a headache and an hour later you were paralyzed. How far the virus crept up your spine determined whether you could walk afterward or even breathe. Parents waited fearfully every summer to see if it would strike. One case turned up and then another. The count began to climb. The city closed the swimming pools and we all stayed home, cooped indoors, shunning other children. Summer seemed like winter then.”
-Richard Rhodes, A Hole in the World
The horrors that our predecessors suffered, we do not know, largely BECAUSE of vaccines and their efficacy. Because they have been so very effective at eradicating or at least mitigating disease, we have the luxury of forgetting… and often, it presents as the opportunity to be blissfully ignorant.
But, please understand that as you exercise your right to parent autonomously, and to live life naturopathically, the concern over vaccines is not as simple as the diet that one chooses to follow or the skin care products that one elects to use. When a parent fails to vaccinate their child, it is not only their child who is at risk, but also the many individuals around them. This includes other children, as well as adults. The list includes teachers, neighbors, extended family members and anyone who may have any degree of compromised immunity.
Each of these diseases is highly communicable. They often spread through respiratory droplets, which means that everyone who comes into contact with an at-risk person, will be at risk… whether contact occurs at school, in church or in line at the local supermarket.
The decision not to vaccinate a child has far-reaching implications and innocent people can end up suffering consequences of a decision of which they knew nothing.
The issue of not immunizing one’s child raises, not only concerns of personal autonomy and self-determination, but that of social responsibility. Just as we take responsibility for our actions in other aspects of our lives, as it relates to the good of the world around us, we have a morally binding obligation to act in a way that minimizes adverse outcomes for the communities in which we live.
Please… vaccinate your children.