The case for vaccines
When Marcy McCormick was around four years old, she contracted chickenpox.
There wasn’t always a vaccine for the chickenpox. As a result, parents would purposely expose their kids to the virus because once they got the virus and recovered, they were immune to the virus for the rest of their life. However, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend parents to do this. It can lead to shingles — a disease caused by the same virus as chickenpox.
When McCormick was purposefully exposed to the virus, she was very lucky — or so it seemed at the time — since she got a mild case. Unfortunately, later in high school when she was 17 years old, she got shingles: an inflammation caused by the reactivation of the chicken pox virus. A very painful rash started on her face and made its way to her torso.
“I was out of school for about a month total, but it was two weeks of a very painful burning, itching rash [and] the only thing that would [alleviate] the pain would be to sit in an ice bath for 20 to 30 minutes,” McCormick said.
However, in 1995, the chickenpox vaccine became available to the public in the U.S., and ever since, more than 3.5 million cases of the chickenpox have been prevented by the vaccine each year, according to the CDC.
The first word I think of when I hear the word “vaccines” is “cure.” The United States has come a long way from the days when polio and chickenpox, among other viruses, were very common. However, many people don’t share the same word association to vaccines as I do. In fact, some people who don’t get vaccinated view them as dangerous. This not only puts them at risk, but others as well, especially those who can’t get vaccinated due to health issues.
When Marcy McCormick took her two-month old twin sons to get vaccinated, they each had different reactions to the injection.
“Tobin was a rock star,” McCormick said. However, his brother, Teo had a different reaction. “For the first 30 seconds or so, he didn’t know how to react. And he just got red, and his eyes got big, and he stopped breathing,” she said, recalling that she wanted to shake him to get him to breathe again. “Then all of a sudden, he just let out this huge scream and wail.”
Kaissa Moon, a doula (trained birth-coach) at the SEM Community Doulas, had a different experience with her second son.
It was eleven in the morning when Moon took her six-month old son, Giacomo, to the pediatrician’s. He was poked multiple times. The different vaccines coursed through his body. Once they came home, Moon noticed Giacomo became fussy and miserable. She took him to his bedroom upstairs, and after getting him to sleep, she came back down. Something on the video monitor caught her eye. Giacomo was shaking. She rushed over to his bedroom where he wasn’t shaking anymore but his lips were tinted blue. Picking up the phone, she called the pediatrician who then talked her through the situation. Giacomo experienced a mild seizure.
“I was just scared. I was scared and when he looked normal again, I was relieved.” Moon said.
After this experience, Moon decided to stop vaccinating.
“After the reactions and doing some research, [we] decided we had some genetic predisposition to [react to vaccines],” Moon said, later stating that her first son also had a negative reaction, specifically breathing problems and breath-holding spells.
“I think you can be totally pro-vaccination but still understand that it just doesn’t work for everybody,” Moon said. “So it’s hard for me to say that I’m anti-vaccination, it’s just not safe for my kids. I think the hardest thing about it, honestly, is that once you start refusing or delaying vaccines you get labeled as this crazy person who thinks Jenny McCarthy is like the coolest person in the world and it’s just not true.”
Unless medically exempt from vaccinations, it’s important to get vaccinated, not just for your own benefit but for those around you who can’t get vaccinated. This is called herd immunity. For example, if in a population the number of people who are vaccinated is close to the number of people who aren’t (including those who can’t because of medical reasons) a virus can spread a lot faster, infecting both people who chose not to vaccinate and those who medically couldn’t. Whereas in a population with more people vaccinated, a virus won’t spread as quickly.
Although Moon had legitimate medical reasons to not vaccinate, Michigan has a higher percentage than most states for exemptions from vaccines. According to the CDC, 5.4 percent of children enrolled in kindergarten in Michigan were exempt from vaccinations for non-medical reasons in the 2013 to 2014 school year. These non-medical exemptions were categorized into two reasons, religious and philosophic.
I’m not sure what these philosophical reasons are in Michigan — although I have my suspicions — but a Public Health Report in 2011 in the PubMed Central (PMC) concludes that my suspicions were right.
“Our data shows that compared with parents who only delay, parents who refuse vaccine doses are significantly more likely to report too many shots as the reason for their refusal; they had concerns about autism, vaccine effectiveness, or vaccine side effects; or they had heard or read unfavorable reports about vaccines in the media,” the report read.
Thanks to celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, who is president of the Generation Rescue organization, a nonprofit that advocates against vaccines due to its supposed relation to autism, some people believe these scientifically unsupported arguments. This not only brings up more individual cases of viruses, but also virus outbreaks like measles and hepatitis A.
“I think that we are seeing a re-emergence of diseases that easily should have and can be wiped out entirely,” McCormick said. “We are seeing a huge resurgence of measles, and that absolutely has an extremely effective vaccine, and these re-emergences are happening in neighborhoods or in areas where there’s a big opt out rate for the vaccinations.” McCormick said.
As sad as it is, what McCormick says is true. Because of people who choose not to vaccinate and outbreaks in other countries where Americans often travel to, as of Nov. 3, 2018, there have been 220 individual cases of measles and 15 outbreaks compared to the 120 individual cases in 2017, according to the CDC.
“I would say to those people [against vaccinations] that they are being very irresponsible [and] that because we live in a society, we have this responsibility to take care of each other,” McCormick said. “And being vaccinated yourself, you are making sure that you’re not carrying a virus that could then infect someone else and be very deadly and potentially serious.”
It amazes me how there are all of these different reactions — some bad and some expected — for something that happens for only a couple of seconds: a shot. Something crucial for our health. I agree with McCormick, in that it is possible for us to get rid of these diseases and viruses. This shouldn’t have to be a partisan debate. Scientists and the CDC have repeatedly said that there is no connection between vaccines and autism.
The CDC put it simply for why parents should vaccinate: they are tested to guarantee safety and effectiveness and the immunization schedule ensures immunity before children are exposed to life-threatening viruses.
Don’t get me wrong, there are people who medically cannot have vaccines — especially, people with HIV/AIDS or other diseases that affect the immune system — and if you are concerned you might fall into this category, talk with a health professional.
“We know that there is this sort of coevolution happening between us and viruses and bacteria. And that to keep it at bay, to control it, we need to make sure that certain viruses and diseases aren’t just running rampant across society,” McCormick said. “And we can do that very effectively with vaccines. And that idea of herd immunity, if a certain percent of our population is and can be vaccinated, then we can keep these diseases at bay and we can effectively wipe them out.”