As I’ve said in other posts, I’m a calculated risk-taker, and I’m very wary of anyone who says they have all the answers. I put my stock in the scientific method. Not necessarily all of science, mind you, but the scientific method. I really do believe that the more times the same thing happens, even if there are anomalies, that thing that happens is likelier to keep happening if the conditions don’t change. I also believe that anomalies do happen for a reason. It’s hard to keep things exactly consistent every single time. Life goes on, the world changes, entropy increases… something happens. It’s just a matter of digging as deeply as possible into why.
This is why it bothers me when people present something as absolute fact without explaining the abnormalities.
I’ve seen a lot of pro-/anti-vaccination… catfights lately. (Let’s face it: they’re not discussions. It’s hard to have a civil discussion when you have the anonymity, or at least the space that the internet provides, and you feel very passionate about something. I’m as guilty of having strong opinions and a sharp tongue at inopportune moments as anyone. I just generally learn not to engage the next time, even if it’s almost physically painful.) On both sides, there are a lot of people saying things without backing them up.
In my experience, vaccinations have been mostly beneficial. (In the case of one flu shot that didn’t predict a late-blooming strain correctly, it was ineffectual. This will be important later.) The only time I had more than mild pain at a vaccination site was when getting the HPV vaccines. Lord love a duck, those things hurt!
I’ve been pretty healthy most of my life. I don’t really have allergies—just a mild nickel sensitivity and a disagreement with my stomach about how dairy milk should be digested. I haven’t so much as had chicken pox. (I was sent home from pre-school one day because I was itchy. Nothing ever developed.) I’ve had the flu maybe twice or three times. Head colds happen. Spring hay fever happens less often. (Though there was that one summer where it barely got above 65, so there was constant, low-level hay fever…) I do attribute a lot of this to herd immunity in the form of vaccines. After all, kids tend not to be the best at hand washing and so forth. But when several kids in my class got chicken pox over the years, I didn’t. (Of course, I didn’t bother to ask if they had been vaccinated—I was, like, 8.)
More recently, in my junior year of university, my roommate came back from Israel with whooping cough. I’d been vaccinated 3 years prior (which, I’ve heard, is about how long some experts estimate the vaccine is fully effective), but I was still worried that I might get it. However, that worry was a blip compared to my worry about my roommate. When you’re waking up every night (often more than once) to the sound of someone coughing uncontrollably, and you’re worried that they’ll stop only if something worse starts happening, it’s terrifying. When I asked her if she’d had the vaccination, she said it hadn’t been for at least the recommended period. Think about this: if more people in our dorm hadn’t had that vaccine, the likelihood that it would have spread would have shot up. Now, in fairness, maybe there wouldn’t have been an outbreak, but we can’t know whether that would have been the case.
I don’t have a problem with people who choose to delay vaccinations, and even skip the ones that aren’t as common to get. I can totally understand the hesitation to give so many shots to a baby. What I do have a problem with is people saying that if the vaccinations didn’t work for a small population of those who got the vaccine, that’s proof positive that they don’t work at all. I can play the hypothetical game, too. If vaccines caused all the problems that it’s claimed they cause, why don’t the problems happen more often? After all, they’re really that bad, aren’t they? At best, all of this makes the effectiveness of vaccines inconclusive.
Here’s my take on some common questions I’ve seen posed by anti-vaccine people.
1) Why do you get vaccines if they don’t have a 100% success rate?
Life is not about a 100% success rate. I think we can all agree that a reduction in the incidence of people getting things like measles, polio, and whooping cough is a good thing. Given the choice between getting sick more often and getting sick less often, I’d rather get sick less often. I got the flu, and that sucked, but getting sick, much like getting run over or getting food poisoning, is a risk I take by being alive. I will take any reduction in those chances.
2) Why do you get vaccines if you need to keep on getting them?
See 1, word-for-word.
3) Why do you get vaccines if they affect some people badly?
Because they don’t affect me badly. They generally don’t affect most people badly. If they do affect you badly, don’t get them.
4) Why get vaccines if they’re only effective via herd immunity?
See 1, again. Jeez.