On a science podcast I listened to a few months ago, the moderator interviewed an actress from a well-known television series.  She had a Ph.D. in physics from UCLA.  The moderator himself was on the show one time, and that may have colored his viewpoint of what happened in the interview.

The woman had not vaccinated her children, saying,  “There are a third more vaccines now than there were when I was growing up, and I thought that was too many.”

She thought that was too many?  Based on what science?  Her statement appalled me, and I was equally appalled when the moderator did not call her out on her actions.  So what if there are a third more vaccines?  I haven’t seen a measles case in years.  A measles cluster involving about 7 people occurred here a few years back, and it made the newspaper.  Fifty years ago, only 7 cases of measles in a neighborhood  would have made the newspapers as real news.  Measles kills and is extremely contagious:  1 in 1000 die from measles encephalitis.  It is a nasty, nasty disease.  Does this mother want to spin the roulette wheel on her children?

Or rubella, the disease we kids loved to have, because we felt fine but had to stay home from school.  Unfortunately, pregnant women may catch rubella–and may not know it–until too late.  Does she want her daughter to have a child with congenital rubella syndrome, like a cousin in my distant family?   He is deaf, retarded and partially blind, and he lives with his mother.  What happens to him when she dies?  What happened to his life, and what happened to his mother’s life?

What about polio, where most cases are asymptomatic?  Perhaps if her children never leave the US, they will be fine.  What if they go to Bangladesh, Paraguay, Uganda, or even Mexico?  Does she want to take the chance they will get polio that is not asymptomatic?  Perhaps they will not be allowed in, because some third world countries actually believe that vaccination is important, even if some in a First World country don’t.

Mumps orchitis (testicular inflammation and a chance of sterility), pertussis, and H. influenzae meningitis are not benign diseases. This is the worst year for pertussis in decades.  What is this woman thinking?  Does she believe these diseases no longer exist because a higher power took them off the Earth?  Does she not know the Salk Trial was stopped early, because the vaccine worked so effectively?  I was part of that.  I was in the first cohort who got the Sabin vaccine.

When I was a medical student, forty years ago, we wrote “UCD” in a patient’s history, meaning “usual childhood diseases.”  I have no idea what they are now.  If we did as a country what we should do, and mandate vaccination for those who clearly have no contraindication, we would not have many “UCD” at all.  In Arizona, half of all children in charter schools are not vaccinated; 15% in public schools are not.  It’s bad enough we are destroying public education in this country; now the kids are going to be at higher risk for bad diseases, too, in addition to no solid proof in Arizona that charter schools deliver a better education.

Regrettably, all it takes is for a few vociferous people who will not believe sound science to convince many that white is black, and black is dangerous.  There are many people convinced vaccines cause autism and vaccines are bad, when good science has not shown that.  There are many who don’t believe we landed on the Moon, that astrology is meaningful, who can’t find Polaris, don’t know why we have seasons, don’t know metric or English measurements, think 9/11 was a US government plot, and the Marfa Lights are UFOs. Even more believe that the climate is not changing, and that we can continue to grow economies infinitely using finite natural resources.  The latter beliefs are unfortunate; not vaccinating when there are no contraindications is child endangerment.

Before 2004, not many people had heard of Swift Boats.  Today, the term is an English verb: “To Swift Boat somebody”.  You take a fact, say it isn’t or discount its worth, repeat the lie over and over again, and you can get a lot of people to believe it.  Swift boat ads helped defeat a decorated combat veteran by turning his Vietnam service against him. We have Swift Boated vaccines, and at some point we will pay the piper.

I wish I could have had the measles vaccine in 1956.  I did get the mumps and shingles (zoster) vaccines.   The zoster vaccine decreases the risk of neuralgia by half and cost me $200. I thought that was a good bargain, since post-herpetic neuralgia is a miserable, poorly treatable disease.

For most of history, disease, not hostile action, was the biggest cause of battlefield casualties during war.  Small wonder that the military believes in vaccinations.  It would be nice if the rest of the country did.


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