Fucking Facebook. I’m going to blame you, Facebook. It’s probably not fair, but I’m going to blame you.
I’m going to blame you for taking reasoned discussion and turning it into heated anger. I’ve seen it happen again and again. Post something, and it’s fine if there’s a bunch of agreement, mostly, but the tenuous level of friendship between the people who are friends with the poster means that they don’t know each other’s quirks and writing styles. They don’t give the benefit of the doubt. So people get into it. It turns ugly.
What was it this time? Vaccinations. A friend posted a thing about vaccinations and one of her friends, whom I don’t know at all, disagreed with her about vaccinations. Because I am an asshole, I chose to step in and try to clear up what compromised immune system actually means. Which did absolutely nothing. Of course. Because it’s Facebook.
See, I think people hear “compromised immune system” and they think, “oh, the poor sick kids. That’s not my healthy kid! I’m sorry for the poor sick kids, but that’s not my problem.”
When, really, compromised immune systems are everyone’s problem. I mean, it’s not just herd immunity, but yeah, that’s part of it, too. See, the problem with measles (German measles, otherwise known as Rubella, that is) is that it’s super dangerous to pregnant women. Not in a horrible, it kills pregnant women kinda way. More like, over fifty percent of women who contract measles while pregnant end up with serious complications. That’s a good deal higher than that less than 1% of complications that happens with vaccines (a number so small as to be nearly statistically insignificant, by the way, and certainly the dangers of the diseases that you are immunizing your children against with these vaccines carry a much higher rate of complications). These complications range from miscarriages and stillbirth to blindness, deafness, and so on.
Measles are so serious that quarantine used to be the only actual answer, and it wasn’t a very effective one. It still spread.
So, again, to the compromised immune system. I don’t think that a lot of people realize how wide a term that is. Arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. Eczema is an autoimmune disorder (to some degree).
Sure, it’s the kid with multiple sclerosis, but it’s also the kid with asthma.
And by the way, why are you so willing to throw the kid with multiple sclerosis under the bus?
What the hell, man? What the hell? Are you so lacking in empathy that you simply think “too bad, so sad, I can’t risk my kid getting Autism?” (which, hey, let’s be really, really clear now: YOU CAN’T GET AUTISM FROM VACCINATIONS. EVER. EVER. EVER.) Which, also, by the way, being pretty close to a lot of people on the Autism Spectrum, I’ve got some fingers up in the air for that fear, too. Trust me on this: your kid having Autism? It’s not something so freaking scary and world shattering that them being dead is preferable.
Are you scared of the list of ingredients on vaccines? Then go take a course in chemistry, because these words being big and polysyllabic does not actually equate to dangerous. It just doesn’t. Lacking a college nearby, or the time to take such a course, use Wikipedia. There’s fabulous pages on all these ingredients. There’s great pages on the chemical interactions, even.
Are you scared of the list of vaccines and how long it is compared to how long it was when we were children?
Great news! The active agents in vaccinations (the payload that makes the vaccines actually vaccines) is smaller than when we were kids. I don’t mean piece by piece either, where you put one MMR vaccine against the MMR from my childhood. I mean, than the whole damn list. That’s pretty much because of those big polysyllabic words. It’s kind of awesome, honestly.
There’s been some awesome doctors and epidemiologists that have gotten together to form the schedule, too. It’s optimized to hit kids when they most need them.
I’m so scattered on this issue that I don’t even know what all to tell you. I’ve mentioned the chemistry, I’ve mentioned the immune disorders. I’ve mentioned the active agents. Have I mentioned herd immunity?
Do you understand what herd immunity is? This one is pretty near and dear to me. See, even though my brother and sister both got chicken pox as children, they both got it twice. That’s not really supposed to be possible according to a lot of people. You get chicken pox once, and then you’re safe from ever getting it again, right? Nope. Doctors know that happens. See, herd immunity works in a couple ways.
The first way it works is awesome. You have a certain threshold of the population who have an immunity to a disease (either through vaccination or through other exposure), and suddenly the likelihood of the disease passing from one person to another and forming an epidemic becomes extremely difficult. The thresholds vary from disease to disease, some are as low as 80%, some as high 94%. The high ones also, not surprisingly, have a high infectious rate, too. In susceptible populations, one index case creates as “few” as 12 more cases, and as high as 18. From one case. Then each of those, at least, 12 cases creates, at least, 12 more. Do you see the problem yet?
Okay, so that’s perfectly susceptible populations, but a whole Montessori school where everyone isn’t vaxxing? Or a whole church? Or all of your home schooling co-op? Guess what they are? Do any of the parents of the children who go to your school travel out of the US often? Do any of the people they regularly come into contact with? Like, oh, say the grocer at the store? Anybody at the church? The home schooling co-op? Do you live on a mountain and ward people off with pitchforks when they come near? I’m betting you don’t, no matter how homebody you might think you are. So, you and your kid are part of this herd.
Which brings me to the second awesome way herd immunity works (the first by making it hard for epidemics to really get feet on them). It protects people from secondary infection. See, like I said, some people can look perfectly healthy, but for some reason, they aren’t immune to whatever the particular disease is. Sure, they kept up to date (and adults need to keep up to date on the DTaP, too, by the way, just in case you were confused. Make an appointment with your doc. Pertussis is nasty and has been hitting hard for the last few years). They had their vaccinations, or had the disease as a child, or whatever, and they still are susceptible to getting it a second time.
Herd immunity protects these people, because the likelihood of coming into contact of the disease lowers so significantly as to become negligible.
Then there’s the best one, and the one that really brings the assholes to the table. The way herd immunity protects people who can’t be immunized. Now, I’m going to say can’t. I’m not going to say people who chose to not have their children immunized, because those are some of the assholes I was speaking of. And yeah, I feel pretty justified calling them assholes here, as they are actually endangering the lives of everybody else because of their unwillingness to vaccinate. I want to talk about the people who can’t. Some children have egg allergies (and egg albumen is an ingredient in many vaccines). Some children have very, very serious auto immune disorders, and their immune systems are so fubared that giving them the task of building immunities with a vaccine, and instead it will pretty much self destruct the kid. These are not the faces of slack jawed nobodies that some truly inhumane people have decided aren’t worth worrying about.
These are vibrant, beautiful, sweet, energetic, amazing kids. Some with big futures ahead of them, some with only the present (and why would you want to take away more of that present? What the hell?). For whatever reasons, they can’t have vaccines because it is a real physical danger to them. Not in a Jenny McCarthy told me it gave her kid Autism kind of way, either. But in a, go into a seizure, go into a coma, get put on a respirator, gonna die kind of way.
So, herd immunity protects that small percentage of people that really and truly can’t be vaccinated. People with cancer. Newborn infants. The elderly. People with egg allergies. People with all sorts of disorders that make it possible for them to be there in front of you and either know or not know that this part of their body doesn’t work.
So, I’ve told you about that part. Okay. You still don’t care. These diseases are just amorphous risks to you. They don’t feel real. I’ll tell you why they don’t feel real. It’s because vaccines work. If you’re pretty young, say, in your 20s or 30s, go talk to grandparents or greatgrandparents. Otherwise, if you’re in your 40s, like me, talk to your parents. Ask them about childhood diseases.
See, it used to be common to be in and out of the hospital constantly as a child. It used to be common for kids to go blind, deaf, be crippled. It used to be common to die of these things. It used to be that a cough was scary to everyone who heard it, and a spot meant run away. Not everyone your parents, grandparents, or greatgrandparents knew, not by far, but at least one or two people they knew as children, sometimes many more, died because of these diseases.
Now, these diseases are so uncommon that we’ve weighed the risks as we know them and we can’t really properly weigh the diseases themselves, because we simply aren’t familiar with them. We don’t know what it means to have polio, or rubella, or measles, or pertussis. We don’t know what an epidemic looks like. We don’t know, but we will.
And I say we will because this is the most dangerous part of the herd immunity thing. We figure it’s safe for just a few of us. Everyone else is getting vaccinated. So, we can not. That’s not quite true any longer, though. Every year it all gets a little bit worse. So these little outbreaks keep happening. We’re getting under that threshold, and it’s pretty high threshold for some of them, a high threshold that requires a very large herd immunity. 92-94% for whooping cough (the “P” in the DTaP that you need to renew every few years, have you called your doctor yet?). Not really all that surprising that we heard so much about Pertussis last year when you think about that, is it?
I know this isn’t really a good post. It’s rambling. It’s all over the place. The thing is, I can’t really keep making these arguments. I certainly can’t keep making them on Facebook. It’s making me an asshole. I’m wanting to say horrible things that I shouldn’t say (some of them I guess I said here, sorry). That doesn’t really make me a happy camper. I need to let this all go and push it out there and take off the mantle of the idea that I can do shit all about the fact that some people have just… just decided differently than me. Than science. Than REASON.
Oooph. Breathe in. Breathe out. Gotta let it go.