Why I choose to vaccinate

The world is full of horrors. As a parent, I find the horrors I can’t explain the most frightening. In the early days of January, an 11-year-old boy was admitted to a California hospital with a case of
measles. That same day, the California Department of Public Health received four similar reports from other California residents, and two from Utah. All of the patients had been to a Disneyland theme park during the same time period.

As of March 13, that number had exploded to 145 patients spanning three countries, including Canada. This outbreak is believed to have instigated from someone travelling to the park from the Philippines, where a massive outbreak has resulted in almost 60,000 infected and over 100 dead.

By comparison, the measles outbreak in Vancouver lasted four weeks and infected around 400. According to a recent article in Maclean’s, a religious group travelling between the Netherlands imported the virus.

In both Vancouver and California, most of the victims were unvaccinated. By choice. There was never a question about whether I’d vaccinate my son, Riley. Science says vaccines are safe, and history proves they work.

According to the World Health Organization, from 2000 to 2013, measles vaccines have resulted in a 75-per-cent drop in deaths, saving an estimated 15.6 million lives during that time.

Indigenous measles has been eliminated from Canada since 1997, but in its heyday, infected between 200,000 and 300,000 Canadians annually.

An aggressive virus, it lingers on surfaces and hovers in the air for up to two hours, just waiting to infect the unwary passerby. It’s highly contagious, infecting nine out of 10 non-immune people it comes into contact with.

As a parent, fear is something I understand all too well. And with the rampant amount of toxic information floating online, I understand how some might believe vaccines aren’t safe.

From the personal stories of people who vehemently believe their child’s autism was caused by vaccination to the scary-sounding studies that anti-vaccine enthusiasts promote, it’s hard not to question.

The study that instigated the modern anti-vaccine movement was published in The Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and best known general medical journals, in 1998.

Its lead author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield and company claimed to conclusively show a link between vaccines and autism and bowel disorders.

p26What The Lancet and even his co-authors didn’t know was that Wakefield had been paid hundreds of thousands of pounds by lawyers wanting to sue vaccination makers for profit, and the methods and conclusions were deliberately fabricated.

The paper was formally retracted by The Lancet in 2010 after an intensive investigation by the British General Medical Council, but it was too late.

According to a 2004 article from the Sunday Times, vaccination rates fell from 92-per-cent to 78.9-per-cent in the UK following its release. Which is frightening, because measles isn’t
exactly harmless.

According to WHO, before 1980, around 2.6 million people died each year from it. In 2013, that number dropped to 145,700, mostly children under the age of five.

Complications are common, affecting 30-per-cent of measles patients. And they can be brutal. Aggressive diarrhea. Ear infections. Swelling of the brain. Blindness. Pneumonia. Death.

Many parents who refuse to vaccinate their children do so because they fear neurological damage. According to a Public Health Agency of Canada website comparing risks of diseases to the risks of vaccines, the chance of a person with measles contracting encephalitis is around 1 in 1000. Of those that do catch it, 15-percent die, and 25-per-cent develop chronic neurological conditions.

The chance of a person coming down with encephalitis from the vaccine? One in a million. There is hard proof in abundance that screams vaccines are far safer than the diseases they protect against, yet some parents still refuse to vaccinate their children.

According to research published in the journal Pediatrics, showing proof the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism to a person who believes it does will only increase their resolve to not vaccinate their children.

And that’s a horror I don’t understand. It’s like refusing to buy your child a helmet after being shown conclusive proof helmets prevent head injuries.

So I won’t tell you to vaccinate your child. And I won’t tell you not to. I will strongly urge anyone with concerns to visit their doctor and ask as many questions as they can, but beyond that, the choice is yours.

As for me, I will make sure my son keeps his shots upto-date because it is, in my opinion, the safest choice.

Photo: Courtesy of Chris Hunt