Vaccination myths highlight Internet’s shortcomings

Some parents in Ontario, across Canada and, indeed, throughout the western world are asserting their decision to avoid vaccination of their children against the range of childhood infections, all of them potentially very serious not only to their own children but to the larger community that depends for its safety on a nearly 100 percent vaccination compliance.

No matter what anti-vaccination parents may say—and one of the current arguments against the measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) vaccination, commonly referred to as the MMR series, links it to autism spectrum disorder in children’ it’s difficult not to believe strongly that those who consider withholding vaccinations from their children are largely doing so because the programs have been so successful and have led some people to an unfortunate sense of complacency.

We do not have to look back too far to the tragic days of pre-vaccination polio outbreaks when anxious parents routinely isolated their children during polio season (August, in our hemisphere) and prayed that they didn’t come into contact with this virus for infections very often led to lifelong muscle damage in its victims.

Then, along came Dr. Jonas Salk’s revolutionary vaccine, initially delivered through three annual vaccinations and polio has been eradicated throughout the world except—and this is important—where religious and even some political leaders discourage anti-polio shots, associating them with vague “western plots.” These polio hotspots are Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, countries with many, many other anti-social issues.

The service club Rotary International has as a foremost goal the total eradication of polio worldwide but is routinely frustrated by clerics in these nations discouraging this public health effort and so children there continue to fall sick and then grow up with a wide-variety of totally preventable crippling afflictions.

It seems that those parents in our own country who are convinced that vaccinations are somehow bad for their children and so exercise their right to decline them are missing the crucial point that the more gaps there are in the vaccination web, the more all children are at risk of serious illness, including their own.

Prior to the development of the vaccine against measles, it was not unusual for the high body temperatures often associated with the disease to lead to brain damage and associated developmental handicaps that unfortunately, were permanent. These same infections often led directly to the secondary infection of encephalitis and death. There have been pre-vaccine examples of both of these outcomes on Manitoulin.

Prior to the discovery of vaccines against measles, polio, rubella (German measles), pertussis (whooping cough), mumps and, more recently, meningococcal disease, parents knew that exposure to and infection by the various viruses and bacteria that cause these conditions were serious and had the potential for catastrophic consequences.

If we let down our guard and enough of us opt against the vaccination of our kids, we are doubly compromising them.

The infections are one thing.

But in the days when these “childhood illnesses” were common, there was also a tradition of basic home-based nursing procedures that parents (primarily mothers) acquired as necessary adult life skills.

These include understanding how to manage high body temperatures caused by the fevers which are associated with all of these conditions, understanding proper hydration techniques, supervising bed rest required for convalescence as well as having an intuitive sense of when someone is not getting better.

In today’s two-income families where every adult needs to be a breadwinner so the family unit can afford to pay the cost of housing, food, transportation, education, etc. very few can stay home with a sick child for days or weeks on end even if they had managed to acquire some basic nursing skills.

This is another example of the complacency that has gripped the western world in matters of public health and it’s another example of why, as a group, we should understand that, for example, the association of the measles vaccine with autism has been debunked because it’s simply not true.

While the Internet is a wonderfully useful tool, it is also incredibly effective in the dissemination of just plain incorrect information such as the measles vaccine-autism connection, destructively so.

As a society, we have enough to worry about on a day-by-day basis than the quite dreadful outcomes that can be associated with preventable illness. If a group of like-minded friends, or a religious sect makes a communal decision against vaccination, they are endangering the whole group if one of them visits, for example, Disney World, comes in contact with an illness from another unvaccinated child (or adult) who is infected with measles, mumps, whooping cough, polio then it’s almost a guarantee that, back home, at least some of his/her friends will in turn catch the bug and set parents to worry about something with which they needn’t/shouldn’t have had to be concerned.

Another generation had no qualms about embracing any and all protections.

Here is a fairly recent example: just over 30 years ago, the Sudbury and District Health Unit announced it was fairly certain the diagnosis of the symptoms presented by a very ill person from a Manitoulin Island-area community was diphtheria.

People have been vaccinated against this particularly nasty bacterial infection for quite some time but the spectre of contracting this illness that in an untreated worst case could lead to death caused by an airway blocked by the products of the bacteria sent folk to get a booster shot when the health unit established vaccination clinics all across Manitoulin. The response was virtually universal as people patiently stood in long lineups to receive a shot.

Thirty yeas ago, the adult population was still close enough to the pre-vaccination emotional roller coaster associated with polio season, with measles contagion, with nasty side effects from chicken pox, mumps (male sterility, among others in this case) to not be complacent and to line up in their personal and communal defensive against the possibility of a diphtheria infection and this would have been the general response across Canada and the rest of North America.

During the intervening years, no one we know has fallen ill from any of these illnesses for which vaccinations are available (due to the fact of these very vaccination programs). The result is that some of us who presently have children who are now of the ages to receive their vaccinations, seem ready to take a chance on their children?s health and base these decisions on data that is, at best, specious.

As the world’s population grows steadily larger and is increasingly more internationally mobile, compliancy in the matter of public health is not an option, nor is the denial of vaccination by parents for their children when these decisions are based on half-baked “popular” science for these complacent decisions endanger not only their own offspring but the rest of our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well.

This is too dangerous an issue on which to play fast and loose with the social contract that keeps our society as civilized as it is.