Giving shots a shot in the armBeverly Godfrey column: I was disturbed to read this week in the News Tribune that 25 percent of middle school students in the Duluth school district aren’t immunized.
By: Beverly Godfrey, Duluth News Tribune
I was disturbed to read this week in the News Tribune that 25 percent of middle school students in the Duluth school district aren’t immunized.
I hope that percentage is the result of parents failing to send the records to school. But what if the figure actually is accurate?
It makes me wonder, are these kids from families without health care, families who just aren’t paying attention, or families making this choice on purpose?
Parents who are against vaccinating their kids can be a loud, vocal group. So I’d like to raise the volume on the other side of this issue and say I vaccinate my kids, and I hope other people do, too.
I know, it’s none of my business what other people do with their kids’ health care. But we’re talking about infectious diseases, so the issue can be viewed through a slightly different lens.
Reporter Julia Ioffe published a nice little rant on newrepublic.com this week because she got whooping cough, has suffered for months and blames anti-vaccine parents for messing up America’s immunity.
“Vaccinations work by creating something called herd immunity,” she wrote. “When most of the population is immunized against a disease, it protects even those in it who are not vaccinated, either because they are pregnant or babies or old or sick. For herd immunity to work, 95 percent of the population needs to be immunized.”
If you type “herd immunity” into a Google search, it helpfully suggests the word “myth” should follow, because that’s what many people search for. Following that search, you’ll find plenty of blogs and websites dedicated to a so-called “intelligent debate” about vaccines. The people behind that information seem to distrust doctors, drug companies and governments.
Search for information on “herd immunity” in a positive light, and you’ll find websites such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, Harvard University and Mayo Clinic.
Somehow, the conspiracy-theory blogs are gaining a foothold with new parents even though their advice flies in the face of the world’s infectious disease doctors.
“Anti-vaccine advocates are asking parents to disavow nearly the entire medical establishment,” said Huffington Post writer JJ Keith in September. In her column, titled “I’m Coming Out … as Pro-Vaccine,” she said she was hesitant to jump into the fray. I understand the feeling, but as more cases of whooping cough show up in Minnesota — and they have in recent years — maybe being pro-vaccine won’t be something to be so quiet about.
“If you believe in vaccines, can you speak up?” asked Dr. Claire McCarthy in April on boston.com. She referred to a study in the journal Pediatrics that said new parents are more likely to listen to their friends about immunizations than they are to listen to their doctors.
“The people who don’t immunize tend to be more vocal than those who do,” she wrote.
I understand going against the grain. I’ve been a hippie-dippie mom for 15 years. Maybe people assume my breast-fed, co-sleeping babies also aren’t vaccinated. Because all “that stuff” goes together, right? But no. Not this.
I also understand having my faith shaken. My first child got one dose of the rotavirus vaccine before it was recalled in 1999. That was on the heels of the Lancet article in 1998 by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that linked vaccines with autism. The research has been debunked numerous times since, but as the saying goes, you can’t un-ring a bell.
Nowadays in the U.S., you don’t see kids dying from measles or diphtheria, so maybe we’re taking our health for granted. The decision not to vaccinate can start to seem mainstream, and things probably will be fine as long as these groups don’t get too big. But since society’s protection comes from people who are immunized, here’s hoping they stay in the majority.
Beverly Godfrey is a copy editor and columnist for the News Tribune. You can reach her at bgodfrey@ duluthnews.com.