523: Vaccination

A Thousand Things to Talk About
A Thousand Things to Talk About
523: Vaccination

Do you or would you fully vaccinate your kids?

Full episode script

In 2010, the CDC reported that 40 percent of American parents with young children have delayed or refused one or more vaccines for their child. And in both the United States and across the world, this rise in unvaccinated people is having a big impact. As Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health pointed out, quote:

In 2014, the United States saw 668 cases of measles in 23 different outbreaks—the most measles here in nearly a quarter century. One of the largest outbreaks was linked to Disneyland in California, where kids, parents and park workers alike got sick. Consider that in 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared the disease “eliminated” in the U.S., thanks to a safe and effective vaccine developed more than 50 years ago.

There are a number of reasons someone may not get vaccines — there are a number of health issues that make vaccination impossible, such as being too young or too immunocompromised to get a vaccination. There are also many areas of the world where the refrigeration and sterile injection systems required for a vaccine are not readily available.

It’s also easy to write off those that don’t vaccinate as “crackpots” or “just silly” — and for those that are against vaccinations, it’s easy to write off those that support them as “stupid” or “brainwashed” — the gentlest terms I came across in my research.

As with many things, though, it’s an issue with a complex and storied past and present. As author Michael Willrich explained in the New York Times:

Public fear of vaccines did not originate with Dr. Wakefield’s paper. Rather, his claims tapped into a reservoir of doubt and resentment toward this life-saving, but never risk-free, technology.

Vaccines have had to fight against public skepticism from the beginning. In 1802, after Edward Jenner published his first results claiming that scratching cowpox pus into the arms of healthy children could protect them against smallpox, a political cartoon appeared showing newly vaccinated people with hooves and horns.

many people, […] saw mandatory vaccinations as an invasion of their personal liberty. An antivaccine movement began to build and, though vilified by the mainstream medical profession, soon boasted a substantial popular base and several prominent supporters, including Frederick Douglass, Leo Tolstoy and George Bernard Shaw, who called vaccinations “a peculiarly filthy piece of witchcraft.”

In America, popular opposition peaked during the smallpox epidemic at the turn of the 20th century. Health officials ordered vaccinations […] club-wielding New York City policemen enforced vaccinations in crowded immigrant tenements, while Texas Rangers and the United States Cavalry provided muscle for vaccinators along the Mexican border.

Public resistance was immediate, from riots and school strikes to lobbying and a groundswell of litigation that eventually reached the Supreme Court. […]  opposition reflected complex attitudes toward medicine and the government. Many African-Americans, long neglected or mistreated by the white medical profession, doubted the vaccinators’ motives. Christian Scientists protested the laws as an assault on religious liberty.

There’s also a possibly much simpler explanation for why modern-day vaccinations are not always completed — fear. Fear, specifically, of needles. From NPR, quote:

“People who are afraid of needles are less likely to get vaccines, less likely to fully vaccinate their kids, less likely to give blood and less likely to get a flu shot,” says Dr. Amy Baxter, lead study author and clinical associate professor at Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. Research does show, that needle phobia has more than tripled over the past 30 years.

And while that fear link is one small study, there’s a much larger set of numbers worth keeping in mind. The quote-unquote herd immunity required to protect unvaccinated individuals from devastating, and often fatal illnesses. That’s between 60 and 95 percent of individuals that need to be immune for a wide variety of diseases to be eliminated… and stay gone.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.