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Wherein I plug my nose and wade into the vaccine debate

February 7, 2015

There is nary an issue that makes me more grateful to be childfree than the current debate around vaccines. Hoo boy. I’ve seen more knee-jerking on both sides than two battling troupes of Irish step dancers. We’re going to have to update the taboo dinner-table topics to include “sex, politics, religion, and vaccines” lest our civilization devolve into mortal warfare.

I hold to no position in this debate, and therefore have kept entirely out of it so far, but the social media cacophony has become so shrill that I have decided to try to make a plea for a little bit of cool-headed mediation, if that’s even possible at this point. So I am going to toss my thoughts into the quagmire and then run away before something bites me.

Practitioners of conventional medicine are not evil poison-mongers.

Mostly they are actually concerned professionals weighing the arguments as they understand them and recommending what they think is best to keep you and your family healthy.

Anti-vaxxers are not reckless idiots who want to actively harm other people’s kids.

Mostly they are actually devoted parents weighing the arguments as they understand them and doing what they think is best to keep their families healthy.

Some vaccines are pretty clearly a good idea.

I don’t want to get smallpox and neither do you.

It is not inconceivable that powerful institutions might push non-crucial vaccines on the public for profit.

If you think that people with power and influence never do things that prioritize their own wallets over public welfare, you are just as naïve as you accuse anti-vaxxers of being.

Autism is probably not “caused” by any one thing.

It is unlikely that a phenomenon as complex as Autism Spectrum Disorder has a single root cause. It is far more likely that there are combinations of pre-existing genetic or physiological conditions that combine with various environmental factors to produce autism symptoms. It is possible that vaccines may play some part for some small percentage of people (pro-vaxxers, stop shrieking in your heads and read my next point), but it is also possible that those symptoms would have been triggered anyway by other environmental factors.

Research is not infallible, even lots and lots of research, especially when it is funded by powerful institutions with a fiscal agenda.

As I’ve said before, science is great, but scientists are human. And even if the current research done on vaccines and autism is 100% sound and unbiased, it shows only that vaccines don’t unilaterally cause autism in large samplings of the general population; I don’t see any way it can reliably dismiss vaccines or any other given circumstance as a potential contributing factor when we don’t yet know what the other complicating, pre-existing factors may be.

The argument that pro-vaxxers shouldn’t worry about their kids’ safety if they think vaccines work is unsound.

Nothing in medicine is 100% reliable and that includes vaccines; and also some people can’t get vaccinated for other health reasons. Seriously, let’s not let smallpox become A Thing again. Did you read that article I linked above? Read it, it’s horrific.

The current hysterical anti-anti-vaxxer backlash is almost certainly being fuelled by the media for ratings, and very probably by the aforementioned powerful institutions for reasons of self-interest.

There is no problem having an opinion, but existing within a howling judgemental echo chamber is helpful to no one. Think critically about everything you read. Don’t parrot everything you hear. Try to be nice. Actually, that goes for both sides.

And now that I’ve pissed off practically everyone, I’m gonna go cuddle my cat and hope that this morass never spills over into veterinary medicine.

  1. February 10, 2015 10:19 pm

    I’m impressed at how objective you’ve kept this. I fall into that in-between area that makes people go “wait, I don’t have a script for reacting to this” on some polarizing issues, but when it comes to vaccines my advocacy is full speed ahead. The consequences of failing to educate people about not just vaccines but also how science works are too big. I see the public’s difficulty with interpreting scientific findings as a major roadblock for our species, so I feel this responsibility to make a push.

  2. a321 permalink
    October 13, 2015 6:32 pm

    I think a big part of the pro-vaxxers is that they’re parents. And parents can be fiercely protective of their children. And I think a lot of (not all) anti-vaxxers are people who turn to Jenny McCarthy for their scientific advice.

  3. December 27, 2015 11:41 am

    I’m a little late to the game but. . .

    I have to ask outright: How many ‘anti-vaxxers’ are old enough to remember what happened when a pregnant woman caught Rubella (German Measles)? Are they aware of how severe — sometimes even fatal — the birth defects can be for a baby born with congenital Rubella? Can they live with that on their conscience? Can they live with the potential for lawsuits if there is a massive outbreak of a pandemic and they or their kid are found to be ‘Patient Zero’?

    They may be able to, but I’m not. That’s why I am vaccinated.

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