“Despite years of research, there’s no good way to convince anti-vaxxers of the truth. It’s time to make vaccination mandatory for all kids.” Phoebe Day Danziger and Rebekah Diamond in Slate.com, July 25, 2016.
Some pro-vaccination advocates have become profoundly discouraged about the possibility of educating or persuading their “constituents” of the importance of vaccination and have chosen instead to focus their efforts on obtaining legislative solutions. From that vantage point, I guess blogs like mine would more or less qualify as spitting in the wind.
I couldn’t be more sympathetic. Having spent much of my professional career as a foot soldier in the struggle against tobacco, I am well aware of how easy it is to create debate where none exists, to push for a “balanced” view or urge compromise when in fact there are not two “sides,” merely one scientific truth. I understand that laws and regulations (or more accurately, “protections”) are necessary to promote herd immunity and uphold the social contract, and they can’t be allowed to be framed as a “choice” or a matter of personal freedom.
On the other hand, laws can be changed, revoked, qualified, voted down, left unenforced (wink, wink), etc. (As my daughter exclaimed when Roe v Wade received its first serious challenge in 1989, “I thought this was settled 17 years ago!” She’s older and wiser now and knows that laws don’t necessarily stay put.) Moreover, laws governing vaccination policy generally apply on a state-by-state basis, and unconvinced parents may homeschool their children while migrating from state to state seeking an environment with more lenient provisions or enforcement practices vis-a-vis vaccination. As if things weren’t already in turmoil, we’ve now entered an era in which the fox has essentially been invited into the henhouse.
So in the spirit of trying to do what I can, when I can, where I can - which is in general how I try to approach life in my seventies - I will continue to blog in the hopes that some will be swayed by my perspective. But I will also lend my support to science-based legislation, knowing that if some of us fail to heed the hard lessons of past epidemics, all of us may be doomed to repeat history.
Until 1990, when vaccination for Haemophilus influenzae Type B (Hib) meningitis was introduced in the US, Hib meningitis was the most common form of meningitis in children under five. Before the development of effective antibiotic treatment the mortality rate was close to 100%. By the time my daughter was stricken in 1974 (as described HERE), the chance of recovery was dramatically improved, but up to 10% of cases were still fatal, and as many as 30% of survivors experienced serious long-term complications.
By some standards you could say we were lucky because our daughter survived intact. And yes, I get it that in such a dire situation a good outcome is infinitely preferable to a bad outcome.
Still, I have never really subscribed to the pollyanna-ish calculus of comforting oneself by thinking about how much worse it could have been. The agony experienced by victim and the prolonged misery and uncertainty endured by the helpless parents are reason enough in and of themselves to avoid this illness. To me the truly lucky parents, the truly blessed parents, are those whose children never contract Hib meningitis to begin with.
Now that this devastating disease can be prevented by vaccination, it is possible for virtually every parent to be that kind of lucky. Vaccination has reduced the incidence by 99%, to fewer than one case in 100,000 children under the age of five. By far the most important factor in determining whether exposed children develop Hib meningitis is their vaccination status. Let me repeat: BY FAR the most important factor in determining whether exposed children develop Hib meningitis is their vaccination status.
In other words, for children growing up in America today, contracting Hib meningitis is not just bad luck, it's also, in almost every instance, the consequence of a bad parental decision based on antiscientific misinformation.
I cannot even imagine how I would feel had my child contracted this disease and I knew I could have taken a simple step to protect her from ever getting it.
One more thing: In 1974, my pediatrician recognized what was wrong with my daughter within moments; he'd seen it many times before. Knowing the importance of speed in confirming the diagnosis and initiating treatment, he canceled all his appointments for rest of the morning and arrived at the hospital almost as soon as we did. Today, thanks to the effectiveness of the vaccine, many physicians have never seen even a single case of Hib meningitis - a good thing for public health but a problem for the unlucky unvaccinated child who turns up in the ER, where precious time may be lost in searching for the correct diagnosis. Something to think about.