running with the herd

Yeah, so I know expecting rational discourse from ohnotheydidnt is like expecting my uncle to buy me a car for my twenty-fourth birthday (i.e. probability approaching zero) but seriously? Jenny McCarthy’s an ass, and the data presented on Jenny McCarthy Body Count actually links to back issues of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report*. One of these sources is more reliable than the other. Do I need to tell you which?

Look, if I wanted a reason to rail against vaccines, I could always pull out the story about my polio vaccination. I was five; my mother took me to get the jab and the stuff on the sugar cube; my right arm went stiff for a week. I probably had a mild reaction. Nine years later, they stopped using the sugar cubes — that would be the oral polio vaccine, the live virus version, in case you want to look it up — because polio was down so far that the risks outweighed the benefits. Kids were shedding virus after they got the OPV, and I’m sure mine wasn’t the only funny reaction. However, instead of ditching polio vaccination altogether, they switched to the inactivated polio vaccine, which was safer if a little less effective. The public health Powers That Be chose to maintain herd immunity despite the eradication of wild polio virus.

And I could tell you about my MMR — measles, mumps, and rubella — which might’ve come a smidge too late, seeing as my glands swelled right up about a week after I had the shot. It’s a live, attenuated vaccine, which means they gave me weakened versions of each pathogen, so I could well have come down with a tiny little mump. Really, what I had was so mild that it doesn’t deserve the plural. Once I got over feeling crummy, I was out in the hof swatting at tennis balls with my Opa.** I just couldn’t go anywhere while I looked like a chipmunk. Again, no big deal. Mom found Doogie Howser reruns on TV, and I developed my first huge crush on a gay man.

Since then, I’ve had plenty of other vaccinations, and none of them have made me sick. If I’m ever responsible for a child, I’ll get her the varicella shot (chicken pox in layman’s terms), because I saw what the disease did to a healthy playmate of mine. The only reason I’m not getting it myself is because I had chicken pox when I was four, and if you had it once, you’re either completely immune or immune enough not to suffer too badly. Please note that I don’t recommend infecting your kids instead of the vaccine. The vaccine is designed to react roughly the same way in everyone’s bodies. Viruses themselves cannot be controlled in this way, unless you are a microbiologist with access to serotyping equipment, and even then it’s a pretty long shot. Viruses mutate in vectors. That mild rash your neighbor’s kid had might turn into a nightmare for you.

My friend with complications wound up in the hospital. She almost didn’t make it. She ended up with massive tissue damage and will likely be scarred for some time to come, perhaps forever. She drew the short straw. I don’t want your kid drawing the short straw like she did. I don’t want anyone’s kid drawing the short straw. What I want is for everyone everywhere to get the same exposure to the same clinically-brewed and -tested virus instead of hoping that virus won’t turn mean.

As for claims that certain vaccines cause autism: the study was direly misinterpreted, and one loud-mouthed idiot took it upon herself to spread results she didn’t fully understand. The end result of all this, and the incident which provoked this post, was the revelation of Ms. McCarthy’s son’s possible misdiagnosis. Guess what, folks? The kid might not have had autism in the first place! All this Sturm und Drang over nothing.

By sheer dumb luck, we have managed to avert widespread outbreaks of preventable early childhood illness. — No, that’s not true. A lot of health care personnel stayed on their guard, listened to public health experts, and called in the proper authorities when smaller outbreaks occurred. They are the soldiers on the front. They kept your unvaccinated kids safe. So did a lot of other parents, who did vaccinate their kids, for the sake of those who truly can’t receive vaccines for medical reasons.*** These are the people maintaining the vaccinated population at a level which confers herd immunity.

So far.

If you want to find out what a world without herd immunity is like, please don’t stop vaccinating your kids. Go to the library and find a book on historical epidemics. Read about diseases like smallpox, which has since been eradicated. Read about those childhood illnesses, the ones you’re trying to prevent. Read what they used to do to us, before we found ways to prevent them.

Then get down on your knees and give thanks that we don’t live in that world anymore, and for the sake of generations to come, quit trying to bring that world back!

* I subscribe to that one, so I might be a little biased here.
** God, I miss him.
*** Allergies to components, actual and suspected; previous severe adverse reactions; compromised immune systems. In other words, if your kid has AIDS, herd immunity means she’ll still be protected, because we can’t give her whooping cough.


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