February 01, 2015

In Case of Measles...

So for many of us living in the state of California, it's not any sort of news every time we hear the word measles. But think back over the past two decades. You probably haven't said the word measles in a long time, let alone think of measles or the possibility of catching it.

But something happened with those past twenty years. A British doctor by the name of Andrew Wakefield had released an article in a scholarly medical journal back in 1998 stating that vaccinations were harmful, contained toxins and caused autism or other types of mental illnesses. Suddenly, many people were up in arms, where once for nearly six to seven decades we had accepted getting a shot would keep us from getting sick would suddenly make us even worse.

Even though the medical community was in complete outrage over an article with zero substantial evidence and had even gone as far as to strip the doctor of his right to practice, the damage had been done. Millions of people around the world were suddenly convinced that what was going into be injected into their blood stream was the worst possible thing in the world.

There are anti-vaxxers (as they are called) who make these outlandish claims on the toxins contained in vaccinations and shots there were things like anti-freeze and mercury and so on. While mercury is an ingredient in many shots, what many of us in the laymen community don't understand is that we shouldn't latch onto singular words that we recognize. For instance, the mercury in shots. The general understanding of mercury is that it's highly toxic when handled and causes a severe form of toxic poisoning. What we don't understand is that it's a compound of mercury that isn't just quicksilver mercury that we know of but a complex molecule that helps preserve the inoculations and prevent them from going bad over time. Even then, the amount of this mercury compound is so minute that it wouldn't really have any effect on us in the long run.

Grasping at Straws

Understandably, the critics of vaccines have been on the defensive about their beliefs that their children shouldn't be full of toxins. These usually are the sort of liberal-ish people who feed their children fruits for snacks and provide meals made from organic, locally sourced produce and provide them natural oils.

In a New York Times article, one Californian woman named Crystal McDonald is extremely adamant against vaccinations that when her daughter was sent home from school for two weeks because she lacked the basic shorts to attend school she remained adamant and firm. Her daughter was concerned with missing two weeks of school and suggested just getting the shot and being done with it. Her mother refused stating "I'd rather you miss an entire semester than getting the shot."

It's this blatant adherence to these ridiculous claims that cause a greater number of problems for the entire community as a whole. The unfortunate part about this is that this problem is affecting the wealthy and usually well-educated people who attempt to live natural lives. Where eggs are straight from the henhouse and milk may be fresh and unpasteurized. This sort of living is incredibly risky due to the pathogens that may exist in unpasteurized foods and the people who are buying it up live in large quantities in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

While during my time in high school, shots were mandatory. There was no exception to the rule. The basis of our vaccinations function very much on the herd immunity to be effective. Now, in a recent article, I read that as many as ten percent of the children attending public schools in Alameda alone have not been vaccinated.

More recently, there had emerged a hero of the struggle for the anti-vax movement. A report from the CDC had stated that there was a 240% increased chance of an african-american boy to become autistic if given a particular vaccine. It was withdrawn from CDC releases due to a poor statistical data model as well as not having a large enough data pool to glean from. Even though the article had been pulled, the publishing journal issuing an apology, the "whistleblower report" from the CDC is still widely thumped.

Herding in Stragglers

It has been a constant uphill battle for doctors especially to try to convince people who had no faith in chemicals to put chemicals in their body. To prevent an outbreak as such, we are very reliant on what is known as herd immunity where if you have a large enough population vaccinated against an infectious disease then 90% of the people will most likely not be affected with only those who are not treated usually catching it and no one else being able to.

When this is not the case, say only 30% of people are vaccinated, then the disease is easily and very rapidly communicated from person to person. The more people around you who are sick suddenly makes the vaccine less effective. Since the vaccine is not a surefire way to protect yourself from getting sick (90% effective), there still is that ten percent of getting sick and that margin increases as the number of people around you who are sick suddenly display symptoms of measles.

Unfortunately for many of us, the way I've seen Americans function is usually a system of too little, too late. The outbreak scare suddenly has pitted vaccinated families against unvaccinated and because of that, there are a growing number of clinics that are refusing to admit children with full on symptoms. Parents are finding themselves having to update doctors via email or phone to consider what operations are to be taken to fix the situation. Again, too little too late. Measles, since the introduction of the vaccine in the late sixties have knocked infection rates down to almost total eradication in the United States.

When the Wakefield report came out in 1998, there was a noticeable increase in entirely preventable problems. I first remember reading an article on wikipedia about whooping cough nearly half a decade ago and from it, I distinctively remember reading that of all the first world countries, only Canada still had persistent problems from it. Now across the United States, there is an alarming increase in what had no longer been a problem at all.

Easily Preventable

It's scary for me to think that I live in a state with so many of these measles cases breaking out. Since January first of this year, there have been a reported 91 cases all within the month. In one month, there have been more cases than the entire previous year! The vaccine has been proven safe multiple times but for some reason, there are some people requiring that it be proven again. Many of the anti-vaxxers are clinging onto the hope that it will cause autism, which it very distinctively will not.

In the mid 1980s, Roald Dahl, the author of Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches and BFG wrote a letter to parents who had refused to vaccinate their children against measles. He drew upon the death of his first child in mid 1960s, his daughter Olivia who became faint, then unconscious then dead all within the span of twelve hours. It was impossible to cure at the time, the first effective commercially available vaccine not being available until the end of the sixties. He spoke of the mandatory vaccinations that used to exist in the US and how the disease had been virtually eliminated and that the side effects were nil. There was a million to one chance to develop serious issues related to the vaccine, but in protecting a child in the easiest possible way, the chance of death was greater by chocolate bar as Dahl put it.

Usually at eleven months, babies are given their first round of measles shots and this goes a long way to help a child's immune system. Untreated and if caught at an early age, it could cause a long string of problems or more serious and completely fatal, Encephalitis. Dahl's daughter Olivia had succumbed to it.

At what cost?

Where do we draw the line? Where do we begin to say, "You know? We could have easily prevented this."? It is my unfortunate guess that there may have to be several parents attending the funerals of their children before they realize that a poke in the arm could have prevented years of grief to come. I highly urge parents to vaccinate their children, for this is a case where you simply must put aside impractical beliefs and understand that by not saving one young life, they have compromised tens if not hundreds. No parent should ever have to hold their limp dead child and realize that they were at fault.