Sunday, February 22, 2015

Vaccines, Healthy Children, and Science Denial

I want to make this very clear: in the issue of the safety and efficacy of vaccines, there is NO debate. I hate to think that this response lends some validity to the vapid, nonsensical arguments that the anti-vaccine science denialists spout. Vaccines are safe and effective, and useful in eliminating diseases and alleviating the impact of others.

Polio. Smallpox. Pertussis. Measles. Rubella. Mumps. Seasonal flu. Anthrax. Chicken pox. Diphtheria. Hepatitis A/B. HPV. HIB. Japanese Encephalitis. Meningitis. Rabies. Rotavirus. Tetanus. TB. Typhoid.

Those are all things which you can be vaccinated against. Read the list. Google them if you have to. Look at what they can do to an average person. Look at what they can do to children or someone who is immune compromised. Now imagine a world where there were no vaccines.

You can't go a day without hearing about all the recent damage caused by the despicable idiots who don't vaccinate themselves or their kids. They have no arguments, only the deranged ramblings of word-of-mouth idiots. What can they say that won't make them sound like they failed every science class they took? Or make them sound like tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists? Chemicals aren't bad. Not all chemicals are toxic. If they can't explain the concept of LD50, then they shouldn't be trying to talk about toxicity in the first place. Not to mention the boldness of the kind of stupid that develops this kind of conspiracy theory which presents all doctors and scientists who understand the medicine as shills or sellouts who have no sense of human decency or compassion. They cast every researcher in those fields as a greedy sociopath who cares more about profit than people. And any subversive voice is cast as a martyr for the cause, double points in they have any kind of credentials, because then they're obviously fighting a 'corrupt system' and not just an example of how an MD or PhD degree holder can still be a fucking idiot.

Side note: If you cite Wakefield for vaccines, that's like citing Seralini for GMOs. Which is to say, you're still stupid, just a special kind of stupid who wants to discredit experts by quoting actually discredited individuals. Wakefield's research was ethically reprehensible and scientifically fraudulent, and he lost his medical license because of it.

Now of course, I know I'm being very coarse and argumentative, and that type of thing never convinces people of anything. I mean, religions have been murdering non-believers for centuries and they still haven't gotten all of us. Look, I understand that there is a unique level of educated ignorance that goes into the decisions these people make to deny science. They think that they are educated and informed enough to make decisions without the experts. They're in that area where they know just enough to over-estimate their own knowledge of the situation. This culture of science denialism is all well and good when adults keep it to themselves and deny themselves the right to be informed on topics. However, much like religious beliefs, their right to hold bullshit ideas ends where it begins to harm others. Like denying starving children genetically modified crops, or denying kids with cancer actual medical treatment in favor of bullshit alternatives, these folks have some level of responsibility for the harm that befalls others as a direct result of their desperate need to put their "right to choose" before their "right to not be stupid about shit." Of course, watching all of this anti-science (especially in the USA) flourish honestly frustrates me beyond the point of reasonable discourse.

So I asked an esteemed friends in healthcare to give me a hand in explaining why vaccinations are so absolutely necessary in a modern world where the population is expanding and the technology is available.

Here it is:

A Letter to the “Anti-Vaxxer” Parents

Alright, before you dismiss me as another writer who is here to bash you, let me say that I get it.  That's right, at some level I get why you won't vaccinate your children.  There, I said it.  However, I must reveal that I am a medical professional, grounded in science, and would like the chance to help you examine  your decisions not to vaccinate your children.

Parents have many concerns when it comes to vaccinating their children.  In a Huffington Post article on 6/4/2014 a pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital made a list of the seven most common reasons parents don't vaccinate, and her reactions and rebuttals to those reasons.  I won't rehash them for you, primarily because you can read it for yourself here, and no doubt you've already heard and read the arguments that address your concerns.  You can't help it, it's everywhere these days.  But have you thought much about why you feel the way you do?

There is a big problem in this world.  It affects all cultures, but some more than others.  That problem is something called “credulity”.  Merriam-Webster defines credulity as “readiness or willingness to believe especially on slight or uncertain evidence”.  We are all victims of it to some extent or another.  I can't blame you, really, because it's been drilled into your head since you were a kid.

Think about it.  Since before you can remember, you've been programmed to be a victim of credulity.  You parents probably told you the stories about Santa, or the Easter Bunny, and you believed them.  Mind you, there was no real evidence of their existence, but you still believed.  You woke up and your presents or candies were there waiting for you.  That was all the evidence you needed.  You didn't have the critical thinking skills needed to delve deeper into the particulars of how those items found their way into your house.  This credulity was reinforced by your parents by years of goodies, not to mention the smiles and general happiness associated with this deception.

There certainly are other examples out there, though you probably don't believe them.  But many people do.  Yes, many people believe in things like Bigfoot, witchcraft, aliens, the Loch Ness Monster, and an innumerable amount of local monsters in various regions of the world.  They believe without evidence.  The believe because they want to believe, because they've heard stories from the people they love and trust, just like we did when our parents were lying to us about Santa.

And let us not forget the highest level of credulity out there – religion.  That's right, the belief in a god or gods is the most common and widespread form of mass credulity ever seen on this planet.  Why?  Because of the same reasons I mentioned before.  It's been drilled into your head since you were a child.  It's a tradition that's gone on since the dawn of man.  Because early humans did not have adequate explanations of the phenomena around them, they explained them through stories.  The stories evolved, changed,  and melded with other stories. You were taught the stories as a child.  Throughout your life you have been rewarded for having “faith”, and you have been told repeatedly that evidence is not needed, that it doesn't matter, because faith, also known as credulity, is a virtue.  You are being told that you are a good person because you'll believe anything that someone tells you!  Does that sound admirable?

Many people say that you have to have faith to “believe” in science.  That is a misconception.  The reason people dismiss science is because they aren't adequately taught the value of it!  They don't know that the scientific method is the most valuable tool we have to find out things about our world and to discover the wonders within it.  Unless you choose to take a science based track in school, you'll actually not get much exposure to it.  If you don't gain adequate knowledge about observation,  measurement, experimentation, and falsification, can I really blame you if you turn to the only thing you really know?  Can I blame you if you turn to the credulity or “faith” of listening to the unscientific opinions of your family or circle of friends?

The answer to that is both “yes” and “no”.  “Yes” because when it comes to something as important as your child's health and safety, it is your responsibility as a parent to educate yourself with credible evidence.  Credible evidence is only obtained through the scientific method, which is used in medicine,  and in the development of vaccines.  Credible evidence is not obtained by listening to people who fear monger and believe in conspiracy theories.  On the flip side, “no” I can't blame you because you've been indoctrinated since birth to accept things, ideas, without evidence.  But you can change that, starting right now. 

Read at least a little bit about science and the scientific method.  Dismiss the idea that all of science, medicine and the pharmaceutical industry is engaged in some mass conspiracy.  Are you kidding me?  Someone would blow the whistle.  Someone would have the ethics and conscience to reveal it.  Be skeptical!  No, that's not a bad word.  Being a skeptic simply means that you're not going to believe whatever anyone tells you without having some evidence or proof that is is true.  THAT'S NOT A BAD THING!!  It's a wonderful thing!  It's showing how strong your mind is.  It's standing your ground and saying “I will not give you the power deceive me!  I will not believe your lies and misrepresentations!  I will think for myself!”   

Without science, without critical thinking, without skepticism, we are doomed.  The human race cannot progress without these things.  If you personally do not adopt rationality and critical thinking, you are dooming yourself to a life of deception.  If we as a society do not place adequate importance on these concepts we will continue to fall behind.  Don't risk your child's safety, or your own.  Think for yourself.

As for my thoughts? If you don't vaccinate yourself or your children, start, now, and apologize to your doctor. Trust me, your children will thank you, and so will the parent of every immune-compromised child, or child too young to get vaccinted. This isn't the middle ages, we have effective technology to improve the standard of life and living. You think that if they'd had this technology when the Spanish Flu was killing people they'd have have just said "No, I don't want that because I'm too stupid to trust the people who understand how safe it is. I'd rather that my kids and I get sick and die."

They fucking wouldn't.

That's just it: this saves lives. The results are only readily visible when the system begins to fail and you see exactly how much good vaccines do. This needs to be done for public health. it isn't just a personal choice, it's accountability to your fellow human beings. If you aren't legitimately medically exempt from vaccination, go get them. Fuck, get the seasonal flu shot too. Be a citizen of the world, not just a selfish asshat.

Seriously, think of the children.