Some people have commented to me in person (and online) that I was a little brash in calling those violently opposed vaccinations as evil or ignorant. Also, that I might be completely shutting off dialogue and having people immediately list me as one of those pro-vaccination whores. I thought about this for a long time and concluded that they might be correct. But here’s why I said it:
My parents were Vietnamese immigrants, who came over to Australia during the Vietnam war. Some of my family have chronic hepatitis B (a vaccine-preventable disease) and may very well die of it. This is not surprising with the >20% prevalence of HBV infections in South East Asia. My family have seen a country without a strong vaccination or medical infrastructure; so when they came to Australia, they readily accepted the help and support of a developed medical program. This is what I want to emphasise in this series.
I do not gain anything from being a supporter of vaccination. If anything, I make a loss: if hepatitis B virus is wiped out, then I have nothing to research and I’m out of a job. My lab mates have been asked more than once “Why are you working on Hepatitis B? Isn’t there a vaccine for that already?”. The overwhelming majority of researchers are not funded by “Big Pharma”, but are government-funded and do it because they are passionate about their topic.
So why do I spend my time writing for no money about diseases and supporting vaccination on the Internet where the majority of people don’t care and some are outright opposed? I have experiments to do and a PhD thesis to write. I have an under-appreciated girlfriend. I have a social life that needs developing. Well, like both anti- and pro-vaccinationists, I am concerned with the welfare of others. Nobody wants people to suffer unnecessarily and everybody wants to leave the world in a slightly better state than they entered it.
The difference between the two sides is how we go about it prevention of suffering and how we understand the world. I chose my side with the most rigorous evidence for it: the pro-vaccination side. But I concede there may be dissenting views to that, as there have been for the last 200 years since the advent of the smallpox vaccine (see the reference for a good summary).
Yes, I may be brain-washed by the scientific machine in regards to the efficacy of vaccines. A fish does not notice that it’s swimming in water. But science is a field that rewards people for overturning the status quo: see Germ Theory of Disease, HIV as the cause of AIDS, Newtonian physics, etc.
As opposed to suing your opposition, in science, all one would have to do to silence the dissenting view is to provide definitive proof that vaccination does not work and it would all come tumbling down. Journals would trip over themselves to publish the biggest story in the past century because of so many copies that would sell. Billions of dollars would be laid at one’s feet for the rights to the non-vaccine thing that caused of disappearance of dozens of disease from 1st world communities. But this hasn’t happened yet. Many researchers are active in vaccination science and interested in sticking it to their competitors; so the overwhelming agreement that vaccination works tells me that vaccine specialists are probably not bullshitting me.
Yes, even with FDA (or similar) approval, there are side-effects associated with some vaccines. However, the diseases that people are vaccinated against also cause symptoms. We are encouraged to accept the minor risk of vaccine side-effects so that not only we ourselves, but also people with whom we interact are protected from the deadly symptoms of diseases.
Yes, there is an issue with freedom. What if you don’t want to take such a risk with your children? You shouldn’t be forced to. Recall the case of vaccination of men for rubella. Rubella is only deadly to the foetuses of pregnant women. Why should men bear a risk of having an adverse reaction to a vaccine when it might be easier just to catch rubella? Because we live in a society. There are times where we need to bear some small cost so that our societies are productive. For example, we pay taxes for roads to be paved and maintained so that society can benefit. Even if you walk everywhere, for society to maintain standards of living, we need roads. By bearing the small cost of vaccination and boosting herd immunity, these men and women ensured that their generation and generations after could be free from rubella congenital syndrome. So it is for other vaccine-preventable diseases.
These are my reasons for the overtly agitating sentence I used to start this series. Indeed, “unaware” (instead of “ignorant”) may have been a better word. Indeed, the majority of anti-vaccinationists are not evil and are pursuing the same goals that I am. I am not immune (ha ha) to having my foot moved to my mouth by passions; I am human. However, despite the unfortunate wording, I stand behind my argument. If you do not think it’s right, I encourage you to comment.
Greenberg SB (2000). ‘Bacilli and bullets’: William Osler and the antivaccination movement. Southern medical journal, 93 (8), 763-7 PMID: 10963505