(Image from Steve Sack, Star Tribune)
I’ve been intrigued by the vaccination debate for a few years now, mostly because vaccines were such a routine, yet mundane, part of my young life. My high school required that students be vaccinated against everything from Hepatitis B to Whooping cough. My mom insisted that I get a flu shot every season, and I was given the Gardsil (HPV) shot soon after it was released. Unlike most children, needles didn’t bother me, so getting vaccinated was just one other thing I had to do.
About two years ago, I went down to my local pharmacy to receive my yearly flu shot, and then I drove over to my friend’s house. At one point he grabbed my upper bicep, which was still slightly sore, and I flinched away quickly. When I explained that I had just gotten a flu shot, he panicked.
“Shannon! You can’t just put things in your body like that! Don’t you know what can happen when you get flu shots!” Uh…I won’t get the flu? Wrong answer. He quickly pulled up a youtube video that appeared to show a girl who got a flu shot and suddenly was only able to walk backwards. I have no idea how he found this video or, more importantly, how he thought this could have any legitimate basis in science or reality. I patiently explained that thousands of people get flu shots each year, and that he likely has a greater chance of literally dying from the flu than of becoming disabled as a result of a flu shot. He was adamant. He had never gotten a flu shot before and I’m sure he hasn’t since.
I think of him when I hear stories about the anti-vaccination debate. What’s always bothered me is that he’s a relatively well-educated, upper-middle class white male. He had access to information and resources (like doctors) who could have adequately explained to him the true pro’s and con’s of flu shots. Instead, he relied on an old and likely fictitious youtube video. Such is the case with many people who refuse to vaccinate their children; some of the wealthiest and most-educated areas in California, like Marin county, are also the areas with the lowest percentage of children being vaccinated.
I could devote an entire blog to posting solely about the anti-vaccination movement: where it came from, who supports it and why, why its bogus. I could post something every day for years and never run out of material. I’m not going to do that, but I am going to point out two interesting articles that came out this week. The first is a New York Times article about the development of a possible Zika virus vaccine. Up until now, researchers had no way of testing vaccines because most animals don’t react to Zika in the same way that humans do – interestingly, they are almost completely unaffected by it, which is not conducive to testing vaccines for obvious reasons. However, researchers have found that certain immune-deficient mice actually do react to Zika in a similar manner to humans, which means that vaccines can be tested on them. This is especially significant when considering the potential implications of a Zika vaccine. Travel to South America (summer Olympics, anyone?) would become dramatically less dangerous for women of child-bearing age.
If they’re willing to get the vaccine, that is.
The second article, also from the New York Times, details Robert De Niro’s decision to remove an anti-vaccination documentary from the Tribeca Film Festival. Information about the film, which was widely discredited by scientists and is directed by the original discredited anti-vax scientist, is detailed in the article. Stepping back, it is important to consider the implications of an anti-vaccine documentary. Consider the roles the films like Blackfish and Supersize Me had in influencing public opinion. Now, more than ever, it is extremely important to educate ourselves and our friends about the importance of vaccines. The world is changing, viruses are becoming more virulent, and we have a responsibility to make sensible choices about how to be healthy.