A Pox on All Our Houses

Smallpox in the 16th century

Vaccination talk has been the latest flashpoint on the all the social media sites we pretend we don’t check four times a day. The facts surrounding vaccinations haven’t changed, so I do not really know why it is the current topic du jour. It just must be something in the air. (Get it? Discussing infectious diseases? Something in the air? GET IT? Don’t worry. I will be here all week.) I have friends firmly rooted on both sides of the equation. Get them in a room talking about needles and the rotavirus and they will only agree on one thing – it is an important issue. And they are right, it is. Perhaps if I were wise I would stay out the discussion. But in all the reporting on reports, blogging about the feelings and posting about the posts, I haven’t heard a voice that represents my perspective. And so today, (on a day that I hope we can all remember we LOVE each other and it is alright to disagree) I am going to explain why I vaccinate my children and why I hope, pray, and plead that my community (and yours) chooses to do the same. PS. Not the shortest or happiest thing I have ever written. I promise to talk about something frothy and light tomorrow.

Viewed from a late night and a laptop, much of the worlds’ history looks like nothing so much as a quaint diorama with dark edges. A time when people were burned for witchcraft, the forests were full of fairies and there were monsters at the edge of a flat world. We think, with our packaged food and store bought air, that humanity has journeyed so far from the places it once was. It is easy to forget that each new age has been more enlightened than the one that came before it (except for you, Dark Ages), and that perhaps that doesn’t mean much at all. I am glad I was born in the 20th century, I much prefer a fast food nation to one in which an early freeze kills my crops and I starve to death. But I think in some ways the people that came before us knew things that we have forgotten. Their lives were short and they understood what it meant to be hungry for more of it. Yes, it was a time of fairy tales and things that go bump in the night. But it was also, like the age we live in, a time of real threats and real fears. The people that came before us knew there were wolves outside their door and they would have moved heaven and earth to keep the damn things out.

The first known case of smallpox was found in the Egyptian mummy of Ramses V, a pharaoh that died sometime in 1145 BCE, about three thousand years ago. He may have been royalty but the cause of his death was one of the great equalizers of mankind’s history. For the next three thousand years smallpox killed anywhere from 30% to 60% of the people it afflicted, although in children the death rate was closer to 80%. The wealthy died lying on silk sheets, the poor died in small, dark rooms, but they all died the same horrible way. Death from small pox is a painful, ugly, lonely thing.  And until after the 1970’s mothers all over the world knew its face.

The first sign is a fever often high enough to produce hallucinations, quickly met by days of throwing up and crippling back pain. At this point, smallpox’s characteristic pustules have not yet appeared and the mother sits by her child’s bedside and prays against the thing she already knows is happening. Maybe it is something else, perhaps an aggravated flu, the effects of a poorly prepared meal, one of the many painful quirks of childhood. Surely, my little girl cannot have the pox. Surely. By the third day, the fever abates and for a moment, the mother thinks, perhaps she will be alright. My goodness, all this worry over a stomach ache.  Yes, tomorrow she will be even better. The next day her daughter wakes up with the first pustules blooming across her forehead.

She is not alright.

At this point the little girl can infect people standing up to six feet away from her. The other members of the household are quarantined, but only the mother goes into her daughter’s dark room. In the next ten days, if her daughter lives through them, her little body will be overtaken by an aggressive rash full of those pustules, hard as marbles and embedded deep within her skin. They will attack her face, eyelids, mouth, arms, chest, leg, hands and feet. She will become unrecognizable. In some cases, the pustules are so numerous they fuse together to form a sheet. When this happens the skin begins to separate from the flesh underneath. If the girl is lucky the disease will not become malignant or hemorrhagic, as both manifestations of the disease are nearly always fatal. If she is lucky, she will not develop a secondary infection, pneumonia or go blind. If she is lucky she will live through the back breaking pain, the thousands of pustules will scab over and the scabs will fall off. They will leave behind deep pitted scars. If she is lucky, she will emerge disfigured but alive.

As a woman with children, I must step back and consider this mother and her child. If the mother has had the disease she is immune. If she has not and this is the more likely of the scenario, the odds of her catching it through the care of her child, is nearly one hundred percent. And yet she will sit by the girls’ bedside every day. She will brush the hair out of the little face she no longer recognizes and give her water when she is thirsty. And when it isn’t too painful for her baby, she will pick up that hot little body and tell her everything is going to be alright, because sometimes, the things we hope for are all we have as mothers. And then she will wait. Wait to see if the smallpox will take her little girl. Wait to see if her other children will become sick, too. Wait for the moment that she feels a little warm and my, hasn’t her back hurt all day?

And because disease is a greedy little bastard it will not keep her waiting for long.

A little girl afflicted with smallpox in Bangladesh, 1973

In 1796, a man named Edward Jenner discovered that cowpox, a much less threatening form of disease, immunize against small pox. His grand invention, the smallpox vaccine, was the answer to thousands of years of prayers said by mothers kneeling by the bed of their sick. By the end of the 18th century smallpox was the cause of death of every tenth child born in Sweden and France, while in Russia the rate was closer to every seventh child. The smallpox vaccine, on the other hand, had a rate of .000198% chance of death, or one in a million. Over the next hundred or so years, it was used successfully, though at times sporadically, in developed countries. It was not used extensively worldwide. In fact, in the 20th century (you know, that one we left just twelve years ago) smallpox killed over 400 million people.

In 1959, the World Health Organization decided to change that and set about destroying the disease one vaccine at a time. Vaccination clinics were set up in bustling metropolises and places without roads.  And mothers –oh the mothers!- who had watched sisters, brothers, husbands and babies succumb to the disease drove, walked, biked, begged their way to the clinics. And then they waited in lines that stretched into the night, for the opportunity to vaccinate those they loved against something they hated. By 1976, the disease had been completely eradicated from the planet. I think about those mamas offering their children up to a needle dipped in pox so that those babies could live in a better world. And my goodness, it worked. Those mothers, with their faith, understanding and determination, killed smallpox. The beast that had maimed and broken and devoured for thousands of years was vanquished by the same hands that cooked dinners and wiped tears off of soft cheeks. They slammed the door shut on that dark room and made sure no mother would have to enter it again. Ever. What a powerful, moving monument. I can hardly catch my breath thinking of it.

We are so far removed from the things that came before us, we do not realize how delicate our current situation is. I mean, this is after all the western world. Won’t we always be disease free? Because we eat organically and well, know better? I mean, that isn’t how it works? The names of the things that vaccinations protect my children from are foreign to me -Pertussis, Measles, Polio, Pneumococcal- to name a few. But just a generation ago these were words used at the dinner table, they represented real things that maimed and killed. My dad had friends that had polio, my mom had a complicated bout of mumps and pertussis is now making a new resurgence, taking away our beautiful babies as it passes us by.

How are we letting this happen? Why aren’t we in lines stretched into the night, offering our children something that will help give them a better world?

And here I think is the true problem, the stumbling block. I think that we believe, or would like to believe, that we have conquered the primal world. That we have moved past the point of our history where there are monsters at the edge of the map. And my, wouldn’t that be nice? But we have not. We will not. We cannot. Life is not without hard decisions. Life is not without risk. And I will sit here and freely admit that vaccines are accompanied by risk. Our current vaccinations are not burdened by the statistics that weighed down the smallpox vaccine. There is no one in a million death rate. In fact, there simply is no official or (agreed upon) unofficial death rate. (Of course, there are anecdotes and conjecture but perhaps those are our modern day version of haunted forests and evil spirits.) For most vaccines the possible complications include fever, irritability, and soreness. One in a million people that receive the vaccine may have a serious allergic reaction. The CDC reports that in the weeks following a vaccine a few cases of seizure and brain damage have been reported but that “these [instances] are so rare it is hard to tell if they are caused by the vaccine.” With the absence of a proven connection, this is the equivalent of me stating that a few weeks after I ate garlic bread my heart stopped and so garlic bread caused the cardiac arrest. Not likely.

As a mother, I understand thinking that one in a million or “so rare it is hard to tell” are chances I would rather not take with my children.  And this is precisely what many mothers do choose. But the choice we are making is not between complete health and one in a million. The choice we are making is between a world in which polio lives an ocean away and a world in which it lives down the street. For years, families have been able to choose to not vaccinate their children because enough of the community was vaccinated to keep disease at bay. This concept is called Herd Immunity. Theoretically, as long as 85% of the population remains vaccinated then vaccine preventable diseases will not run rampant. But the numbers required for Herd Immunity to work are not comforting. Only 15% percent of the population can forgo vaccines for us to remain safe. In some communities across the country the percentage of people opting out of vaccinations for philosophical reasons has reached 13% – 19%. When adjusted to include those that cannot have vaccines because of health concerns the number crosses over 20%. The dam has been breached.

I have heard the stories of the mothers that did not vaccinate because they had a feeling they shouldn’t and then later in life they discovered their child had an autoimmune disease that could have been potentially complicated by the vaccinations. I believe in motherly intuition. For them, not vaccinating was the right decision. I have friends with children that cannot be vaccinated because of health issues, for them not vaccinating was the right decision. But they are the exception, not the rule. My children and I (and probably yours and you, too) are the rule. It is time to accept that we live in a real place with real threats. As mothers we will never be able to eradicate disease, sorrow, danger from our children’s lives. I know that. But there are some dark rooms we never have to walk into again and it is our duty to make sure it stays that way. It is time to protect our children the best way we can. The wolves are at our door and for the first time in history we have the power get some of them the hell out of our sight.

So let’s do this thing.

Curious about what your babies are being protected against with all those needle pokes? Check out this fact sheet by the CDC. 

Just a few highlights (or lowlights)…

Before vaccines in the United States:

Pneumococcal killed over 6,000 people each year

Measles killed an average of 450 people each year

Complications of mumps include deafness at a rate of 1 in 20,000 that contract the virus and it was the leading cause of viral encephalitis.

Paralytic Polio afflicted 13,000 – 20,000 people each year. Many of them children

One million people die each year of liver cancer caused by Hep B they contracted as children. Currently, 2 billion people worldwide have been infected with the virus.

Worried about complications from vaccinations? Read this article.

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September 10, 2012  |  life in progress, mamma in progress  |  ,  | 

41 Comments


  1. Bravo! We feel we have the option to decline vaccination because we are “safe” from the disease. If it were decimating our community we would be the first in line to protect those we love.

    The offered “statistics” showing adverse effects beyond the official list of negative consequences of vaccination are not only questionable, they are insignificantly tiny. None of us thinks for a moment about traveling in a plane or driving in a car with our children, but both are statistically more dangerous than the list of possible ills from vaccinations.

    We all know someone who knows someone whose child was supposedly harmed by vaccinations. Before our age everyone had lost someone to a disease which is now preventable. It wasn’t the friend of a second cousin whose name or face was a mystery, but the child whose cry was intimate or the husband or wife whose touch was known in the dark. Not every medical “miracle” deservers our faith. Some do.

  2. This made me cry! Luc got his first shots last week and I felt so relieved that he was protected. To see him that sick would break my heart. I love this and I think it’s so well written!

    • Lindsey, oh I just love your little Luc and am so happy he is doing well. I agree that there is some great relief from knowing we can protect our children against a few of the worlds terrors. What a blessed age!

  3. Meg, this is ultimately why we decided to vaccinate. I didn’t vaccinate for chicken pox or hepatitis–but every thing else. Like you, I was struck, horrified by small pox. I think the benefits far vaccinating far outweigh the risks. Thank you for your research, & thanks for sharing. Not an easy issue to take a stance, way to go.

    • Janae, as always thank you so much for your input. When i had Zuzu I absolutely struggled with vaccinating her. I didn’t know much about the process – good or bad. After weeks of research we decided to vaccinate and I have felt very comfortable with that decision. I have several friends that vaccinate on a delayed schedule and they all have nothing but good things to say about it. Thanks again for stopping in! Love! Meg.

  4. Oh also, we did a delayed schedule (waited until 9-12 months or older).

  5. Wonderful Meg, just wonderful! This is so well written and insightful! You are an amazing writer!

  6. Yes, yes, yes. I agree with you 100%. Very well said.

  7. This is one of the BEST vaccination articles I’ve ever read! Wow! Thank you, thank you! And we must not forget that it’s just as important to revaccinate ourselves as adults as some wear off after about ten years or so, so we carry the disease and dont even know we’re spreading it. A lot of people forget about that (me being of one them until a couple years ago). You are amazing, thanks again!!! Xoxo

    • YES! Adult vaccinations…how are we all so clueless about that? I didn’t know I had to get revaccinated until someone(ahem, you) told me last year.

      You are amazing.

  8. My baby turned 2 months old today, I am grateful that at his 2 month check-up tomorrow he will get vaccinations, what a blessing they are!

    Love you writing, and I am glad to read it written on such an important subject!

  9. Love this! No matter the argument, I always felt I would rather have my child alive with any side affects from the vaccines (none seemed so debilitating as the ones from the disease) than dead from the disease. I vaccinate all my children from the beginning and every booster. I say yay to vaccines.

  10. This is so well written Meg! When I was cradling that newborn in my arms (I opted out of the hospital vaccines- we would do them at a later date) I had no idea what to think about vaccines. Having only two sisters in-law’s opinions (completely opposite ends of the spectrum) I turned to the books. The ingredient lists terrified me, but so did the diseases. Ultimately I prayed about it (what else is a mother to do?) and knew that I had a choice, but I needed to protect my baby, at whatever cost. So I studied some more and realized that for me, for my baby, a delayed schedule would be best. Looking at how tiny she is now, how most one year olds weigh more than she does at two and a half, I’m so glad I slowed them down a little, but I feel completely comfortable with my choice of vaccinating fully.
    My only beef in this issue is that nearly every doctor in Utah County told me that me and my baby were not welcome in their office unless we followed the specific vaccine schedule. I tried to explain that I was vaccinating, if only a few months behind, only two shots at a time, but only one doctor consented to see her as a patient. Another can of worms to open, that healthcare one. But thank you for writing, as a new mom pondering this subject, this post would have pushed me over the edge to choose vaccinations.

    • Thank you so much for your insightful comment, Erin! I have many friends that vaccinate on a delayed schedule and I am always surprised at the resistance they meet from doctors. I am so glad you found a pediatrician that could meet your family’s needs.

      And I love that tiny little Penny to pieces. Just the cutest little girl I ever did see.

  11. Well written, I find this a necessary conversation. And for those that choose not to vaccinate they can thank all of us, because we vaccinate our children we give them the protection through herd immunity.

  12. AMEN!! OH Megan, you have the words that I do not. You’ve summed up more than my feelings on the matter, and so eloquently, too.

    For me the benefits of vaccination far, far outweighed the cost. I want to travel the world with my family without the fear of them contracting (or passing along as so many un-immunized have) those heartbreaking diseases.

  13. Thank you for writing this!! Children are once again dying because these diseases are coming back. I hate to watch this happen. I have a feeling many more are going to have to die before the fear that drives mothers swings back full force to the benefits of vaccines.

    Your writing is amazing. I hope this gets read by many.

  14. excellent article! totally on the same page with you:)

  15. Really, a terrific article. My brother and his wife feel differently about vaccinations than I do, I’m not quite sure what they’ve been doing – a combo of skipping and delaying I think? I love them immensely, but I do not at all understand how they could decide to skip any of them (especially b/c they’re also germophobes). My grandma (also my brother’s grandma) lost two little sisters to whooping cough! It’s not that far removed from us! I’m all for being informed and knowing your options, but I totally feel that too many people have decided they are exceptions. Again, a well-written article.

  16. Well done yet again Meg. I have felt so strongly about this issue and I have to stifle my screams to the people who spout insane statistics about autism and other complications. It’s a crazy world and it becomes exponentially crazier when you become a mom. Thanks for your insight.

  17. One night I thought my 3 month old was dying of pertussis. The scariest night of my life. (She was in the ICU at Primary’s deteriorating quickly, and pertussis was suspect.) As I called the hospital in an absolute panic trying to confirm that I had been recently vaccinated, one thing that was so frustrating was that I had done all I could do to protect my baby. I had been vaccinated, as had all of my other children. But that darn herd immunity . . . There is NO argument or reason anyone could have given me as an excuse for not vaccinating their child (besides the health reasons you have stated) that would have held water with me in that moment. Or ever again. Such a blessing for us, we still have our daughter. However, many mommies lose theirs. Right here in the United States. Right here in Utah. Yep, right here in 2012. Thank you for this article, it is perfect. (Sis Sarah sent me here.)

  18. I was a missionary in Nicaragua 15 years ago. While I was there I worked in a hospital and saw many of these diseases, not smallpox thank god, but polio, mumps, rubella, scarlet fever, measles, and a host of tropical infectious diseases. The risks are worth it. One of my companions hadn’t been vaccinated in the states and caught mumps and measles.

  19. I believe there is a choir of angels singing somewhere over this article — at least I heard them as I was reading it. This is so well written and so, so true. I truly believe vaccinations were inspired by God and I’m so thankful I don’t have to worry about smallpox or polio or some other awful disease each time my kids get fevers. I get teased by family and friends (even by my husband) for being all granola and all-natural about everything, but vaccinations are where I draw the line. I agree with Dr. Weil — a natural health guru — he said that the risk factors associated with vaccinations are worth taking since he’s seen the effects of the diseases they present.

    Kudos to you for being willing to take on this issue — lots people get really riled up against them and can get kind of mean. I maintain that we actually have the time to have this whole vaccination debate BECAUSE of vaccinations — otherwise, we’d be discussing how to deal with much, much worse issues.

  20. Vaccinations are not about protecting our children anymore. They are about $ for drug companies. The info you posted sounds like it came right off their websites, or those of their colleagues in crime, the AMA, CDC, etc. While they are raking in their billions, our children are becoming autistic at a rate of 1 in 87, our sons at a rate of 1 in 57. ONE IN FIFTY-SEVEN, and NO Independent studies are being done to find out why? NONE???? I can only imagine your outcry if 1 in 57 of the children you know were born blind. I can only imagine it because I certainly didn’t detect it throughout your post. And please, no thoughtless comments about “no proven connections”. ANYONE who vaccinates their children per the medical community’s recommendations is at BEST, uninformed. Good heavens, we can’t even break one of the new “green” lightbulbs without having to call the fire dept hazmat team, (think I’m kidding? I’m not)) but yet we can willingly pump poisonous chemicals into newborn infants who have an underdeveloped immune system for the first year of their lives? Really? And the sad part is, they could accomplish all the beneficial aspects of vaccinations without destroying a single child’s life if they were just willing to part with a few of their accursed dollars. Your post smacks of “whew! MY child made it through the vaccination process, to bad if yours doesn’t.” Russian Roulette isn’t so bad if the gun doesn’t go off on your child’s turn? Understandable and predictable, but profoundly pathetic.

  21. Vaccinations are not about protecting our children anymore. They are about $ for drug companies. The info you posted sounds like it came right off their websites, or those of their colleagues in crime, the AMA, CDC, etc. While they are raking in their billions, our children are becoming autistic at a rate of 1 in 87, our sons at a rate of 1 in 57. ONE IN FIFTY-SEVEN, and NO INDEPENDENT studies are being done to find out why? NONE???? I can only imagine your outcry if 1 in 57 of the children you know were born blind. I can only imagine it because I certainly didn’t detect it throughout your post. And please, no thoughtless comments about “no proven connections”. ANYONE who vaccinates their children per the medical community’s recommendations is at BEST, uninformed. Good heavens, we can’t even break one of the new “green” lightbulbs without having to call the fire dept hazmat team, (think I’m kidding? I’m not)) but yet we can willingly pump poisonous chemicals into newborn infants who have an underdeveloped immune system for the first year of their lives? Really? And the sad part is, they could accomplish all the beneficial aspects of vaccinations without destroying a single child’s life if they were just willing to part with a few of their accursed dollars. Your post smacks of “whew! MY child made it through the vaccination process, to bad if yours doesn’t.” Russian Roulette isn’t so bad if the gun doesn’t go off on your child’s turn? Understandable and predictable, but profoundly pathetic. My apologies if I sound harsh. The gun went off on my child.

    • Tim,

      I can understand the passion that fuels a parent, especially one whose child is hurting. Your little boy or girl is certainly blessed to have a father that loves them so dearly. As I said in the beginning of the article, this is a divisive issue and I understand and respect that there are some that disagree with me. And honestly, I welcome disagreement. Where would we be without debate? There would certainly be less discovery in this world without it.

      However, I must take issue with a few of the charges you lay at my door. They were personal and you don’t know me. Let me introduce myself.

      Hello, My name is Meg.

      In the months leading up to the birth of my first child I decided that I would not vaccinate. I thought the risk was simply too great. I do not make decisions lightly. So I decided to do some research so that I could feel certain about my decision. I spent four months up late every night reading every pamphlet, website and book from both sides of the vaccine community. While I found some valid concerns in the anti camp (mainly having to do with allergic reactions), in the end my mind was changed. I decided that vaccination is not just important, it is vital for my children and community.

      I have three good friends with children on various points of the autism spectrum and am an aunt to two autistic children. I love them all dearly. I took each of their stories into account as I considered vaccinations for my own babies and wrote this article.

      It may shock you, because you do not know me, but I do not believe everything the government and it’s agencies proclaim. Your comment about the green light bulbs and everything they represent is spot on.

      Thimerosal was contained in some vaccines until 2001, and it is still present in the flu vaccine. In both cases,(50 micrograms per .5 ml dose in the case of vaccines before 2001), the dose was far below levels of toxicity. A large number of parents avoid the flu vaccine and thimerosal is no longer present in the vaccines required for school attendance. And yet, Autism rates continue to climb. This suggests that diagnosis of people with the condition has increased or there is different cause. It is far past time to find the cause and cure. I pray to God that we do.

      My research for this article was pulled from sources as varied as the NY Times, The Institute of Medicine (“an independent nonprofit that works outside of the government to provide unbiased advice”)and various peer reviewed medical journals including The Lancet, the journal that first published the report linking autism to the MMR vaccine.

      I don’t expect to change your mind. I do expect you to respect I made this decision as a mother that understands the weight of the situation. That I am woman that loves her children fiercely and wouldn’t do a damn thing that would hurt them or the other children whose mothers love them equally as fiercely.

      Tim, do you see how I did that? Disagreed with you without calling you profoundly pathetic? Acknowledged that as parents everyday we make difficult decisions without accusing you of not caring for any child but your own?

      Best,

      Meg

  22. As parents we all love and want the best for our children. When bad things happen we are desperate to know why. And rightfully so. The fact of the matter is that in life we may never know why or how some things, autism for example, happen. I do know that this author does not recite single sources and she is tirelessly empathtic towards all children and their parents. She does extensive independant research with an open mind before she forms her opinion.

    Thank you Megan for this thoughtful timely piece. The Autism Science Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to finding the cause of and understanding autism. They have some very informative articles about vaccines and autism on their website.

  23. There are many voices in the conversation about vaccines. Some of the loudest voices against vaccines include Jenny McCarthy (former Playboy Model), Rob Schneider (Deuce Bigalo fame), Donald Trump (gadfly) and a former British physician by the name of Andrew Wakefield (former because his license to practice medicine was revoked). It was his now discredited 1998 “study” that purported to show a connection between vaccines and autism. Also in the “against vaccines” camp are parents of children who have complex and debilitating illnesses. Additional anxious parents who are worried about making the wrong decision regarding their children’s health are also in this group. Their anxiety about making the wrong choice is fueled by the proponents of “no vaccines” so they decide to do nothing at all.

    On the other side of the conversation is the Center for Disease Control, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and similar organizations in Germany, Britain, etc – this list is too long to detail, virtually the entire global medical community, the U.S. government and sinister Big Pharma and your family doctor. Given the prevalence of the Autism diagnosis many of the people in the “yes vaccines” group also have autistic children (one good example can be found at http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/health/2011/01/07/dr-manny-stop-lying-autism-vaccine-link/).

    The “no vaccine” group would have all of us believe that all of these people are in collusion with Big Pharma in a phenomenally large conspiracy and that all of these people have no conscience or no brain, or both.

    It would be silly to maintain that any industry, including the pharmaceutical industry, has never done anything harmful for profit. There are too many examples where that has occurred. Those very examples are one of the proofs that hundreds of thousands of people in many organizations will not join a grand conspiracy. Law suits regarding asbestos, tobacco, E Coli, stock manipulation, breast implants, wage discrimination, and pharmaceuticals (to name just a few) all resulted in awards of billions of dollars.

    Why would vaccines produce a lasting conspiracy over decades where these other issues did not? Do we really believe that our family pediatrician is part of the conspiracy so he or she can get the $20 for dispensing the shot? If they were that evil wouldn’t they rather our children have whooping cough, measles or small pox? All these illnesses have a higher profit margin.

    Profit seems to be the primary incentive that is mentioned as a driver of the conspiracy. Thank God for profit. It has played a major part in all of the medical advances of the last 200 years. Even if the doctor or researcher creating the new drug or procedure is ready to do it for the good of mankind it is an investor that provides the lab, equipment, salaries, liability insurance and everything else to get the miracle to mankind.

    Between 1901 and 2010 the Nobel Prize in Medicine has been awarded 196 times. Where are the ideas germinating and flourishing which garner these awards? None in China, 2 in what was the Soviet Union, Germany 16, France 10, Britain 29, Canada 2, the profit driven United States – 93. We will all be better off if profit continues to be a driving force in the development of new treatments. It certainly is an incentive for some on the “no vaccines” side of the conversation see http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevensalzberg/2012/05/27/nobel-laureate-joins-anti-vaccination-crowd-at-autism-one/.

    Benjamin Disraeli said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Unfortunately, we live in a world awash with malleable figures. Recent studies seem to show a marked increase in the number of children with autism. Some say this increase mirrors the increase in childhood vaccines and that correlation must imply causation. Other explanations are possible, including bad statistics.

    One reason for a significant jump in the rate of diagnosed autism is that we are labeling many more conditions as part of the Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Some good reporting on this can be found here http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/53989787-78/autism-utah-kids-diagnosis.html.csp, http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/54378594-78/autism-utah-definition-expanded.html.csp. In Utah, a recent study shows an incident rate of 1 in 47 children verses the national rate, in the same study, of 1 in 88 children.

    How does that correlate to the vaccination rate? Using the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine as a guide the national average for children under 35 months old is 91.6% vaccinated, in UT the number is 88.8%. If vaccines cause autism how is it that we have twice as many autistic children in UT than the national average, but lower vaccination rates? Could the problem be in the numbers? For the vaccination rates see http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/stats-surv/nis/data/tables_2011.htm#overall.

    The new study that is being used by the “against vaccine” group was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control. Why this data is good, but the other CDC studies which exonerate vaccines are suspect, is an obvious question. If the CDC is a major player in the conspiracy to vaccinate our children with dangerous vaccines why would they release a study showing an increase in autism?

    In the case of UT the CDC study did not survey pediatricians or patients. It reviewed the medical records of 2,000 UT children primarily in the Salt Lake Metro area. Based on the notes in those records researchers determined if the child fit the revised profile of Autistic Spectrum Disorder. It was the smallest sample of any state in the survey and resulted in the most dramatic results. Even an amateur statistician would want to think twice before using the data to draw conclusions.

    The new study also showed even more dramatic increases of autism in the Hispanic and African-American populations. Compared to the prior study (2002) Hispanic children went from a rate of 1 child in 270 with autism in 2002 to a rate of 1 in 125 in the 2008 study. These rates have almost no correlation to the rate of incidence in UT. Correlating vaccination rates with diagnosis rates in this population provides no insight as to the change in rate. Do we really believe that the physiology of the Hispanic children in our neighborhood is somehow so different from Caucasian children that it gives them three times the “immunity” to autism or is more likely that the data is at fault?

    Apples and Oranges is a better explanation for the “spike” in diagnosis. The three studies in question use different sample sizes and different criteria as to what would be identified as Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Drawing comparative conclusions from these studies will lead to faulty decisions. The best conclusion that can be drawn is that more research needs to take place as to the cause of Autistic Spectrum Disorder and how it can be prevented.

    Regardless of which side of the conversation one finds themselves, both sides must agree that vaccinations have done much more good than harm. Some people have chosen to forgo vaccination, especially since we live in a day when the awful scourge of small pox has been eradicated (by vaccination). Most feel that diseases like measles aren’t even really that significant. Most of these individuals have not had measles. In the first 20 years of measles vaccination in the U.S. it is estimated that 52 million cases of measles were averted and more importantly 17,400 cases of mental impairment and 5,200 deaths. Worldwide millions of deaths due to measles have been prevented. Similar numbers can be found for diphtheria and whooping cough.

    The “no vaccine” group has proponents worldwide. Nigeria is one example where this has had devastating consequences. Nigeria is the only country in Africa to have never eradicated polio. However, the country’s polio eradication program suffered a major setback in 2003 when rumors swept across northern Nigeria that house-to-house immunization activities were part of an effort to sterilize Muslim girls. Alarmed and uninformed religious leaders and politicians pushed for a suspension of all campaign activities in several states, and a near freeze in others.

    Sadly, this interruption led to large outbreaks of polio that not only crippled thousands of Nigerian children but also spread across Africa and beyond, eventually returning to 20 countries that were previously polio free. see USAID website.

    My heart goes out to any parent whose child is suffering, for any reason. I believe this same kind of empathy and concern is present in the hearts of parents working in such organizations as CDC, NIH or the American Pediatric Academy. I believe it even exists in the hearts of parents doing vaccine research for Big Pharma. I think we will reduce the amount of childhood misery in the world by working with each other to discover the real causes of ASD and eradicate illnesses by wise use of vaccines.

  24. As a mother & a public health worker I have never understood parents who choose not to vaccinate. I know that they love their kids & think they are making the best decision for them, I just can’t understand their rationale. Maybe it is because I personally know two people who were crippled by polio. Maybe it is because I better understand the science behind the issue. I am not sure. I have been baffled by it, so I have done some research into vaccines & vaccine refusal. Two of the most common reasons given for not vaccinating these days are fear of autism & fear of overloading the immune system. I want to talk about each a little bit.

    1) Autism: While it is true that autism rates are increasing, there is no credible evidence that it is linked to vaccines. This review article demonstrates this point: http://www.miottawa.org/Health/OCHD/pdf/2007_Nature_DeStefano_Vaccines_and_Autism.pdf

    I think the most compelling argument against vaccines causing autism is that in countries where vaccination has declined autism rates continue to rise. As the article states, Japan completely discontinued MMR vaccinations in the 90s, yet autism has increased at rates similar to other countries.

    So if its not from vaccines, why is autism increasing? I think there are two main reasons. First,we are broadening the diagnosis code. More people are fitting into that category & we are looking for it more. It’s a known fact in public health that if you look a disease you will find more cases. With our broader categories & better diagnostic tools people are being diagnosed with ASD who years ago wouldn’t have been. That’s a good thing in that they can get the treatment & service that they need, but it does make it look like there are more cases. Second, IMHO a major, but not the only, reason for the increase is the rising age of mothers in the developed world. The only known risk factor for a child developing ASD is the age of the mother, with over 35 being at greater risk. The average age of mothers continues to rise, which is most likely causing more cases.

    2) The idea that vaccines can overload the immune system is relatively new. I think it arises from concern over the combination shots that they give now. I really like this study that was done: http://www.pediatricsdigest.mobi/content/109/1/124.short. If you don’t want to read all the text, at least read the abstract & look at the graphs. The article shows that even though kids receive more shots today than they used to, they actually receive fewer antigens. That means that 11 shots now is less challenging to the immune system than 5 used to be 30 years ago. They also show that our immune system is challenged more by the germs we encounter on a daily basis than by vaccinations, and that our immune system has huge capacity to respond to antigens. The researchers calculate that 11 vaccinations use approximately .1% of a child’s immune system. Also, if you have looked into vaccine reactions, you will know that most vaccine reactions come from the carrying agents (egg, thimersol etc…) rather than the antigen (varicella, MMR etc…). So receiving one shot with 3 agents rather than 3 shots is actually better in terms of vaccine reactions. The more separate shots, the more carrying agents, and the more reactions that could be seen.

    I hope these articles are helpful to some people on this site. I have found them very informative. I don’t take vaccination lightly. I had seizures as a child & didn’t receive the complete vaccination schedule. I also tried to get the Hep B series as an adult & reacted to it, so I couldn’t complete it. I monitored my first child closely, & she did fine with all of her shots. My second child was very ill with RSV as an infant, so he was behind the schedule. I waited until he was healthy to catch him up & he did fine with all of his shots as well. Parents have to weigh the facts & make the best choice that they can. In the absence of specific medical conditions, vaccination is absolutely the best choice for children. We want everything to be perfect, but nothing in life is without risk. For healthy children, vaccination is the action with the fewest risks and the best outcome. Vaccinating healthy children will also help those with compromised immune systems who can’t be vaccinated, like my son was for 8 months.

  25. High fives, sister, and namaste.

  26. Hmmmm…I found this article to be very interesting. Fear is not a good way to persuade. Love is.

    http://www.whale.to/a/smallpox_hoax.html

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