A shot in the arm, A slight kick in the butt

Last week I took two of our cats to the vet for their annual check-ups, including the Rabies, Feline Distemper, and Feline Leukemia vaccines. Some years ago we lost one of our cats to Feline Leukemia; the poor kitty died just a few months before the vaccine was available.

This Saturday past I reminded my gardening students that if they cannot remember when they last had a Tetanus booster, they they should go and get one, because a booster is recommended every ten years. The number of people to have survived Tetanus is vanishingly small; it’s pretty much a death sentence. It’s also easily prevented by a simple vaccine. Sure, your arm is a bit sore for a couple of days, but that beats dying an extremely painful and highly unnecessary death. As I reminded my students, “You get your pets vaccinated, you get your children vaccinated, so you should get yourself vaccinated!”

Except there are a few people who don’t want to get their children vaccinated. A drop in vaccinations means not only that some people get sick, but a drop in vaccinations also means a loss of “herd immunity”, meaning that most of the population is not immune, so there are enough people who can catch and then transmit the disease. When you make a decision to not immunise, you are not making a decision that affects just you and your children. You are a making a decision that affects everyone else in your community.

That is why we had recent epidemics of mumps and measles in the UK and the US, leading to hundreds of sick people, and some who were disabled or killed. Because I work with students in various schools, I get lots of exposure to viruses. I had not previous had a mumps vaccine or the disease, so during those epidemics I went and got the MMR. Now I’m protected against Mumps, Measles and Rubella (even though I had the other vaccines in ’63 and ’70, the combined vax helps boost my immunity). I also went through the Hepatitis B series that year.

So yes, I’m a big proponent of vaccinations.

And no, I do not subscribe to the hysteria generated by a few noisy, well-meaning but seriously-deluded or paranoid people who believe that there is a world-wide conspiracy to poison children and make them catch autism or ADHD or whatever.

A few people get hysterical because some vaccines used to contain a preservative (thimerosal) that was a mercury compound containing ethyl mercury. They liken that to the same mercury compound found in fish (methyl mercury) or to elemental mercury. That is a horrible mis-comprehension of basic chemistry. The types of elements, the numbers of atoms, and the arrangement of those atoms are all important — different compounds have different characteristics. For example, sodium hypochlorite is what’s in bleach that makes it a good disinfectant because it is toxic to micro-organisms (and in larger doses to bigger organisms), but sodium chloride is common table salt. The composition of molecules matters!

The fact is that even years after thimerosal was removed from most childhood vaccines, we still have new cases of autism and ADHD being diagnosed. Studies in several countries have repeatedly found no causality between vaccines and autism. Autism is often diagnosed when children are two or three years old, but doesn’t mean that their vaccines “caused” it.

I see absolutely NO reason to believe that either my own issues or my children’s issues were in any way caused by the vaccinations that we have received.

There is no world-wide “conspiracy of harm” between various vaccine manufacturers and the hundreds of health departments and physician groups in nations around the world. Rather, there is a world-wide effort to eliminate highly-contagious and dangerous diseases that can disable or even kill children and adults around the world.

Another problem with the anti-vax (anti-vaccination) contingent is that they feed the media those heart-tugging sob stories full of “poor abused citizen railing against big, bad company” that the news media are so fond of broadcasting. Unfortunately, the average news reporter does not realise that they are being duped by these earnest-but-misled parents, by the well-connected “personalities”, or by the odd doctor or pseudo-medical professional who is selling quack cures. What is needed to balance out all the nonsense in the media are sensible counter-stories from the rest of the world.

In my country, one such physician group is the American Academy of Pediatrics. The AAP is sending out a request for ordinary citizens, meaning YOU, to help counter the alarmist nonsense. Bloggers like myself are also helping by passing along this message. The letter is below.



As part of our ongoing response to media stories regarding autism and vaccines, the AAP communications department is compiling a list of parents who support the AAP and are available for interviews. We are looking for two types of parents who could serve as spokespersons:

Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders who support immunization and who do not believe there is any link between their child’s vaccines and his or her autism.

Parents of children who suffered a vaccine-preventable illness. This could be a parent who declined immunization, whose child became ill before a vaccine was available, or whose child was ineligible for immunization.

We are asking for your help identifying parents who would be good spokespersons. They do not need to be expert public speakers. They just need to be open with their story and interested in speaking out on the issue. We will contact candidates in advance to conduct pre-interviews, to offer guidance on talking to reporters and to obtain a signed waiver giving us permission to release their name.

If a parent were placed on our list, we would offer their name and contact information to select media. We hope to build a list of parents from a wide range of geographical areas.

As the Jenny McCarthy and “Eli Stone” stories illustrate, this issue is likely to recur in the national and local media. The AAP is committed to doing all we can to counter such erroneous reports with factual information supported by scientific evidence and AAP recommendations.

The anti-vaccine groups often have emotional family stories on their side. The ability to offer a reporter an interview with a similarly compelling parent who is sympathetic to the AAP’s goals is a powerful tool for our media relations program.

Please contact me if you have any questions or to suggest a parent to interview.

Thank you,

Susan Stevens Martin
Director, Division of Media Relations
American Academy of Pediatrics


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  3. Maddy said,

    18 February 2008 at 23:42

    As I’ve already said [elsewhere] today, it’s a shame that the main, loud message that everyone hears is the wrong one, and that ours is still such a whisper.
    Best wishes

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