Monday, November 7, 2011

An Alarming Trend

Tonight, I want to make an excursion to something I've never gone into before, the trend of parents refusing to vaccinate their children against childhood diseases due to a misplaced fear of the vaccines causing autism.  Thanks to a couple of links from my not-gray-bearded-at-all son, I've become aware that parents have gone beyond mere paranoia to actual pathological behavior.

Parents are actually staging pox parties to infect their children with wild chickenpox.  They have an open Facebook group to help each other do this.  If that isn't far enough, they're buying, selling and shipping via the postal service, infectious, virus-contaminated waste in an effort to infect their children. To say nothing of the risks to people with compromised immune systems like anyone undergoing chemotherapy, or anyone who has had a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. 

Blogger Mike the Mad Biologist says:
The only difference between this and bioterrorism is intent, which given the health risks holds very little importance.

How anyone could think infecting a child with unattenuated live measles, mumps or rubella virus is safe? This is nothing more than child abuse through microbiology.
I have to follow this up with a giant WTF??

I had chickenpox as a kid, along with all the usual "childhood" disease (measles, mumps, chickenpox, even German measles); the only vaccines I recall getting were smallpox and the polio vaccine, when the oral Sabin vaccine first came out.  I remember going to the doctor when my brother had one of them - mumps, I think - and being the one who got the shot.  I must have been 4, and really felt abused.  (I think they gave me gamma globulin to reduce the severity of the infection).  In my mind, the vaccinations are tremendous advancement, and given the choice of getting a vaccination or sick, I always get the vaccine (which reminds me - it's getting past time I should get my flu shot this year!) .  There has been a buttload of misinformation on vaccines and autism since a paper linking them by Andrew Wakefield was published in the UK and later retracted (short pdf).  

Actress Jenny McCarthy has been so vocal about this issue, that someone has put up a Jenny McCarthy Body Count page to track the number of preventable illnesses and deaths caused by her convincing parents not to get their children vaccinated. 

I have neither the time, space nor inclination to get too much more involved with this.  The risks of autism from vaccines are not at all clear or large; the risks of dying from these diseases are both clear and larger than the vaccine risks.  Children used to die of these every year before the vaccines became so widespread.  The idea of deliberately giving your child these illnesses and exposing them to the risk of complications or death, sounds exactly like "child abuse through microbiology" to me. 


  1. Although I like the concept of natural immunity, receiving unknown viruses from strangers many states away is a very bad idea.

  2. Not to mention that the varicella virus never goes away. After chickenpox infection, it goes dormant, suppressed by the immune system, until said immune system is compromised, or just weaker due to age. Then it comes back as shingles, a more dangerous and certainly more painful affliction.

    Nice set of risks these morons are volunteering their children for...

  3. There is a vaccine for shingles now, for adults, at least.

  4. My child's pediatrician told us the following (after we demanded answers to our questions):

    1. The rate of incidence of infection and sickness is approximately identical between vaccinated and unvaccinated children in the US.

    2. Vaccinations prevent natural immunity - ie vaccinated persons are capable of multiple infections and multiple sicknesses from the diseases they are vaccinated against, whereas in most cases unvaccinated persons who are exposed to many of these diseases are 100 percent immune to them from then on, and cannot even be silent carriers.

    3. 'Just trust me.'

    That last one is what cinched the deal for us.


  5. Thanks, all.

    Anon 1525, should you be back, I'm a bit confused by the pediatrician's comments. Surely the doctor can't be saying that the vaccines are absolutely ineffective? I read last night the official numbers said an un-vaccinated child was 23 times more likely to get the disease (measles, IIRC) than a child who got the shot. But saying the infection rate between kids who were vaccinated and not is the same for things that the vaccinations are not against doesn't make sense, either. Am I reading that wrong?

    I take it you decided not to vaccinate your child. My mile-wide (small-L) libertarian streak collides with what I know about public health on this. Thankfully, all of these childhood diseases are not very deadly, like smallpox, say.

    How smallpox was eradicated in the wild was by vaccinating rings around a case and keeping it from spreading beyond the first few cases. Eventually, they eradicated it by pulling those rings in, like tightening a noose (poor analogy). If the people who didn't have smallpox and were vaccinated had refused it, smallpox might still be running wild today.

    This is all complicated by the life cycles of the various viruses, and how well they survive outside a human host, and the analogy might not work for chickenpox.

    Should you have a bad streak of geekiness, you might enjoy reading Demon in the Freezer" - as much as it can be enjoyed. Very high pucker factor in that book.

  6. I think it depends on which vaccines you're talking about personally. Measles, mumps, polio, etc, have all been around long enough that the vaccines are well documented to cause no harm, and the potential for infection by an infant if you're carrying it and don't know it aren't worth it.

    I got the full run of such as a kid, but have never gotten a flu shot and don't expect I ever will. I HAVE gotten the flu, exactly twice in my entire life, and both times I was massively over exposed, and both times people exposed at the same time I was, who HAD gotten the shot, ALSO got sick. Both times I was miserable for a few days, then back to work with minimal problems. And technically I'm one of the folks who SHOULD be getting it by the standards of the medical folks. I have no problem with YOU getting the flu shot, but don't try to force me to do so.

    I don't have the data on the chicken pox vaccine, so I can't really comment there, but I had chickenpox as a kid, along with my entire class at school, infact I and my brother were deliberetly brought over to the house of a carpool-mate an hour early for a week when his brother got chickenpox, in hopes we'd catch it and get it over with (no such luck btw, I didn't get it till a year later, and my brother had it two weeks after I did). Are there folks who are at risk for the worse side of chickenpox? Sure, and they probly SHOULD get vaccinated. I also think that mailing out possibly contaminated items in hopes of getting some random stranger(who gave you money for said item)'s kid will get sick is a really bad idea. But I DO think there's a massive over reaction to the whole thing.

  7. Ruth - I think we're in complete agreement. I don't think the .gov should be commanding folks get a flu shot.

    I have asthma and allergies, which aggravate the flu and almost guarantee a secondary infection. If I get the flu, I don't just get over it on my own in a week - like my wife does. I'm one of those folks who actually requires antibiotics.

    A few years ago, I decided that there just isn't any entertainment or any interesting lessons left in getting the flu. I'd just as soon not ever get one again. It appears the only way to be reasonably sure of that is to get the shot.

  8. One needs to compare actual vs expected. Such as, does the vaccine actually prevent the disease, or is merely expected to due to the presence of antibodies in a person? There are two different methods being used to extropolate & report efficacy of a vaccine. That is the difference in the reported statistics. How can it be known 6-9 months in advance what strain of flu will be prevalent while it continually mutates?

    Why do public health officials blame the un vaccinated for some disease occurence, and close down schools for 1-3% of the school population sans vaccine? The answer is that the vaccinated population is also at risk, because the mere presence of antibodies produced by vaccines does not guarantee the disease will be avoided. Further, the use of vaccines ensures that there will be some portion of the virus excreted from a vaccinated person - talk about exposure to immune deficient persons.

    And that is without the vaccine safety discussion...

  9. SG,

    I am not familiar with any of the stats on this issue, but when I read something like "23 times more likely to get the disease", it reminds me strongly of the "statistics" about firearms in the home being "23 times more likely to kill someone in the home" than to be useful in defending yourself and your family that Handgun Control wanted everyone to believe.

    How do you go about verifying such a claim? Is there actually reason to believe that particular statistic wasn't simply made up? Just asking, not arguing.

  10. Actually so do I (allergies and asthma I mean) and I get pnumonia at the drop if a hat (infact the first time I caught the flu I was diagnosed with pnumonia two days prior....that one required some extra meds I'll admit), plus I work closely with the general public exposing me to all sorts of things. But my immune ystem apparently doesn't like the flu virus, at least so far.......*knock on wood*

  11. Anon 0059 - I see your point. In my days as a biochemistry major (I don't even remember enough to be truly dangerous) I worked in a lab that was doing antibody studies on horses. The issue was whether their antibodies to a certain virus were real immunity from having had an infection or just antibodies. As for the flu shots, I always heard the exact mix was based on what viruses are being reported around the world and calculated as likely to be spreading in season - with viruses that have been around a couple of years being left out (people will have immunity to it already).

    I should look into the childhood disease vaccine questions some more. Since my kids are adults, I haven't paid too much attention to the question in at least 25 years. I'm so ignorant of the details, I don't know if we're talking about an attenuated virus or a dead virus vaccine. There are obvious differences in risk there. Some years ago, I read that all cases of polio in the US were caused by the oral vaccine because it was attenuated virus (instead of the injectable vaccine, which was a dead virus).

    My take on the pox parties and other things that started this thread were that it was being done by parents who were concerned about the autism link.

    RegT, naturally I didn't bookmark that blurb on 23% (or 20 or 24, whatever it was) that I stumbled across. I can try to find it. I assumed how the number was derived was by tracking incidence in both populations, but Anon has me doubting that. You know what they say about "assume"...

  12. I have a child with severe autism. This pseudo-goofball-junk-find-anyone-to-blame foolishness makes me completely insane. Since we're in that community, we're surrounded by it.

    Its been one of my many missions in life to completely debunk these fools with reason. I've actually been successful convincing a few to vaccinate. I guess our circumstances give us some weird credibility.

    Thanks for the post.

  13. Not trying to be a wise-guy, SG, just hit by the "23 times" statement. "23%" or even "50% more likely" I could swallow more easily. When they tell us it is "23 times more likely", it just strikes me as sounding like propaganda more than statistics.

  14. No problem, Reg. I saw that number somewhere and it stuck, but I haven't looked for it again since the next night (8th?). I think it was a CDC page, or some .gov organization, but that's all I can recall.