*** Back in 2013 I finally got annoyed enough with the silly (at best!) anti-vaxxers to rant a bit. I repeat it here, now, only slightly modified. It’s not 2013 any more. ***
I have a mark on my arm…
And everyone (or very nearly everyone) of a certain age or greater also has this mark. It’s not the ‘Mark of the Beast’. In fact, it’s pretty much the exact opposite. It helped me, and so many others, avoid – at a minimum – far worse marking. Those rather younger generally do not have this mark. They don’t have it, because they don’t need it. They don’t need because I, and so many others, have it. This mark is the one that came from getting a vaccination. You could say, the vaccination. The name vaccine itself came from this, or a very early version of it. It is perhaps the ultimate vaccination success story. It’s also one thing the United Nations, through the World Health Organization, got right. You see, the last “in the wild” (not a lab accident) case was diagnosed in October 1977. In 1979 the WHO declared that smallpox had been eradicated. This was the first time, ever, that a disease had been considered eradicated.
Since then there has been only one other such success, so far: rinderpest, a disease affecting bovines, that was declared eradicated in 2011. There had been hopes that polio (and perhaps measles) would join them. It hasn’t yet. War and paranoia have prevented the last phase of vaccinations from happening, so instead of zero cases cases yearly worldwide, there are over 200. That sounds good, if you think about the time when cases were in the thousands or millions, but it’s bad if you want to truly wipe out the disease so you can stop worrying about it at all. ADDENDUM: Things are improving some. In 2016 it was down to 37 known cases.
Smallpox vaccine actually was relatively dangerous – compared to other vaccines. It had some nasty potential side-effects. And it was not 100% effective. Why was it used? Have you met smallpox? No? Consider yourself mighty damn fortunate. By the time I got that vaccine, it was pretty good, and had about 95% effectiveness. And that last 5%? A thing called ‘herd immunity’ – if enough of a population is resistant to a disease, even if an unfortunate individual comes down with it, it can’t spread. Thus while the last 5% aren’t perfectly protected, they have a sort of immunity by a kind of automatic quarantine.
The polio vaccine was so effective it astonished the researchers. Its success rate was the stuff not of mere dreams, but of outright fantasy. It also is not perfect, but is well beyond being merely “good enough.” There are other vaccines, for other diseases. I’ve met perhaps one person who likely had (and was lucky enough to survive almost unscathed -if only barely) smallpox. I have met a few people who survived polio. There are vaccines now for more minor illnesses, some of which I’ve had and even though they were mild and “minor” (and minor is relative – they aren’t harmless, they just cause permanent disability and death less often than the Big Bad ones like smallpox.) I would have been quite happy to have traded a needle-stick for the affliction itself.
It irritates me greatly to see that there are still people with the mistaken (at best – all too often it’s more outright crazy) belief that vaccines are inherently dangerous. The claim has been around since the very first vaccinations (and in truth the very first really were a gamble – but it’s not 1796 any more and more than a little progress has been since then). Nowadays the claim often centers on thimerisal – a mercury compound once used as an antiseptic and antifungal agent in vaccines (to prevent the vaccine from causing another illness), and accused of contributing to autism. Certainly, exposure to heavy metals is best avoided, but the evidence for thimerisal doing anything beyond the intended preservation is simply not there. Autism rates increased after thimerisal use ended or was at least greatly reduced (The USA stopped using thimerisal in all but a very few vaccines and antivenoms in 1999.). That doesn’t mean that thimerisal protects against autism; it indicates something else is going on. The “study” that showed the MMR vaccine (and thimerisal) had a link to autism was not only never replicated, but was debunked, retracted by the medical publication that first published it, the originator found to have several conflicts of interest which he hadn’t revealed, and that person is no longer permitted to practice medicine. In short: QUACK! The whole thing was a scam, setting himself up to profit. Ponder that one. This crook was willing to knowingly misdiagnose a cause of an affliction, and have others risk illness for his personal profit. There is a word for that behavior: Criminal.
So now, gullible and panicky people looking for something to blame, erroneously blame vaccines and thereby cause a different problem. Remember that herd immunity? It doesn’t work if the immunity rate (and immunity is conferred by vaccine) falls too low. When that happens, the unlucky individual who contracts an illness can and does come into contact with another susceptible person, and then that one can carry it to the next, and so on. The result is an outbreak of a disease that was rare for a while. Thus nowadays, thanks to this ignorance of the facts, and the stupidity of continuing to ignore them when clear and obvious evidence is presented, there are more and more cases of measles, and whooping cough, and who know what else might be next.
“Those are just childhood diseases.” some say. Adults can and do get them. And often they are far nastier for and to adults – and I can tell you that when I was kid and had some of the “childhood diseases” that they were no fun at all – and I was fortunate to experience milder (relatively) cases. These diseases can still maim and kill. We have a good, effective tool to not only avoid such outcomes, but to avoid the affliction itself. The current vaccines are all much, much safer than even the safest version of the smallpox vaccine – it was a big relief to everyone when it could be set aside. Polio and perhaps measles can, if people come to their senses, also go the way of smallpox (there is no known non-human carrier of either) – and that will mean two less vaccines needed, without risk of outbreak.
I have this mark on my arm. If you don’t, you’re welcome.