February 4th, 2015 8:20am
Why are so many people making such a fuss about vaccinations? What can be wrong with preventing the spread of potentially fatal diseases?
Well, it’s not quite that simple. As a physician, I am fully aware of the public health concerns of vaccination. But as a citizen, I am also fully aware of the intimate relationship between government, industry, and the art of lobbying.
Now, mind you, I am not your typical anti-vaccine crusader. I am not one to throw the baby out with the bath water. Polio, small pox? No thank you very much.
However, let’s take a look at some later entries into the vaccine market. In the mid-90’s, we were told that we must now vaccinate our children against chicken pox—a nuisance of a childhood disease, but usually only serious or (infrequently) life-threatening if contracted by an adult. With the widespread vaccination of children against this disease, the instance of Shingles has risen steeply. I discuss this in detail on YouTube. But to summarize, Shingles is a painful (sometimes debilitating) aftermath that may occur much later in life in some individuals previously infected by chicken pox. Well you might say then that preventing chicken pox is a good thing since those children will never get Shingles. Not so fast. Those vaccinated for chicken pox will require revaccination throughout life—a boom for Merck, the makers of the vaccine. Adults previously infected with chicken pox, when exposed to children with it, actually receive a kind of booster shot, which a March 2013 article in the medical journal Vaccine, points out. So, the only alternative is to stop vaccinating children against chicken pox, right? Wrong. The answer is to create another vaccine for Shingles. I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials.
Recently, advertisers have bombarded us to get the new Prevnar-13 vaccine to prevent pneumonia. Well, that is not the entire story folks. First off, we have a vaccine against “pneumonia” already, Pneumovax; therefore, what we are receiving is not the full story. Neither of these vaccines protect against all pneumonia. Yes, they do help protect against a very specific type of bacterial infection with pneumonia in its name; specifically, Streptococcal pneumoniae. This bacteria can occur naturally in our respiratory tract and in the right circumstances may cause a (usually) treatable form of pneumonia. This infection is generally not very contagious. Is it deadly? In the elderly or those with impaired immunity, it can be, but not usually. But in reality it is not a serious public health issue. It will not prevent you from getting any other type of pneumonia.
The third vaccine I highlight is the one for Neisseria meningitidis—the cause of meningococcal meningitis, a very scary and often fatal infection. Anywhere from 10% - 20% of people carry this bacteria in their nasopharynx without infection. Although there are occasional outbreaks, and although it can be fatal, the incidence of this serious infection is about 1 in 100,000.
So here’s the question? Are these truly public health issues warranting the Government to mandate them?
The recent measles outbreak might have more to do with the wave of immigration from unvaccinated Central American countries than it does with the number of Americans refusing to vaccinate their children. That in fact may be the true public health issue. However, measles is as contagious as chicken pox, but potentially more serious in children, as is rubella and mumps.
So, why are so many people on the fence about vaccinating themselves and their children? Here are the top 5 reasons why:
1. Distrust of the Pharmaceutical Industry
Let’s not kid ourselves—vaccines are big business. The chicken pox vaccine together with the Shingles vaccine brings in about $1 billion dollars a year for Merck. Is the motivation truly public health interest or bottom line? That’s the question with which many struggle. True, in our world, industries can create products solely for the purpose of making money; yet, they can still have the favorable side effect of actually helping people. But in the eyes of many, that type of side effect is not even on the radar of the pharmaceutical industry.
2. Distrust of Government
The protection of its citizens, in my estimation, should be the only purpose of any government. Unfortunately, many (among all parties) in government have shown more of a tendency to protect their self-interests, positions, and power. With this comes the influence of lobbyists and the lure of hard to resist favors. Can anyone explain the advent of pharmaceuticals direct to consumer advertising? That’s a whole other story, but one need not look further than the relationship between Congress and lobbyists. And this relationship sheds a cynical cloud over the public’s trust of the government’s information regarding vaccines.
3. Vaccines for Everything
We need vaccinations to prevent the spread of highly contagious diseases that can lead to death or disability. But in reality we are driven to vaccinate not by these principles but more by the principles of fear. We are made to believe that we or our child could be the 1 in 100,000 to get the disease. Or that our municipality or college may have misfortune to harbor the uncommon outbreak leading to an assault by the plaintiff’s bar and fiscally damaging lawsuits. Therefore, many feel that the government, pharmaceutical industry, and medical establishment are throwing vaccines at us for some treatable diseases or those that pose little public health risk. The risk of serious complications from vaccines (such as about 1 in 100,000 for Guillain Barré Syndrome after a flu shot) is about as high as some of the ailments for which we are strongly suggesting or even, in some cases, mandating vaccinations.
4. What’s in These Darn Things?
It is not a mystery that vaccines contain a lot of “extra” ingredients. True, some may be needed, but their presence raises concern and is at the center of why many refuse to get them. The CDC states, “common substances found in vaccines include: Aluminum…Antibiotics…Egg protein…Formaldehyde…Monosodium glutamate (MSG)…Thimerosal (is a mercury-containing preservative)….” People have a sense that some of these ingredients can’t be good. More importantly, many fear that these (potentially) toxic ingredients may accumulate in their or their children’s bodies causing serious illnesses, such as Parkinsonism or Autism.
5. Personal and/or Religious Beliefs
Personal beliefs, including some religious, prompt many to reject vaccinations. Many feel these to be superstitious, ignoring science. However, in life, we all make some decisions via gut instinct. And, because of so many reasons, a lot of peoples’ guts tell them not to get vaccinated. Many feel that with proper hygiene, public health awareness, healthy lifestyles, and for some faithful religious practice they can protect themselves from most of the ailments for which vaccines experts (or governments) recommend or mandate vaccinations.
These are what I see as the top reasons why people feel uncomfortable about getting or outright refuse to get vaccinated. Further laws and mandates will do nothing to alleviate the public’s attitudes. What will help is to garner more trust. After all, some vaccines are necessary for all our safety. So, we don’t want to alienate the public and throw the baby out with the bath water.
But if we are to have an intelligent approach to vaccination then the following must happen:
Hopefully, keeping this knowledge in mind will keep us all safe and healthy.
© Charles F. Glassman, MD