23 August 2014

Wading into the vaccine storm

I generally try to keep things light on my blog. It's all makeup, gossip, pop culture and any crazy thing rambling through my brain.
Image shamelessly borrowed with appreciation from here.

It all started when I was cheering on my friends and celebrity crushes on social media for doing their #IceBucketChallenge to raise funding to research a cure for ALS. This disease killed my mom's best friend when I was a teenager, so it has always been in my consciousness. I saw a friend remind people that even if you dump a bucket on your head, you still should donate $10 instead of the $100 you donate to avoid the dunk.

Last night, I found out that a friend of mine in California just learned that his two kids (who had their vaccinations up to date) caught pertussis (whooping cough) from other kids at school because California is having a big problem with people opting out of vaccines for personal reasons.

This hit home for me far more than I expected. I have a toddler now who has received his vaccinations for 'the big diseases' (pneumococcus, meningitis, polio, diphtheria, measles, chicken pox, mumps, rubella, varicella, tetanus, pertussis). That's a big load to put on a baby's building immune system, but each of the vaccines was given with thought and care. Mother's milk doesn't provide immunity just because I had my vaccinations, and it has very little that fades after about six months if I had one of these diseases as a child.

Based on the number of people I talk to on my granola mama groups that are opting out and the comments they make when questioned, their personal reasons are generally not religious. I generally avoid getting into conflict because I'm a believer in live and let live. It gets tough when I hear people talk about proven misinformation like autism is linked to vaccines, even after years and with the doctor who published the study losing his license after being found guilty of fraud and serious professional misconduct. It's even tougher when Canadians use American misinformation about things like mercury in vaccines as their reasoning for not vaccinating in my community.

Overall, most people are avoiding vaccinations for themselves and their children because they don't believe in them. Hearing that always makes me think about that line from Constantine:
"I don't believe in the devil." "You should. He believes in you."

Stay with me, because it looks like I'm contradicting myself. In this case, it's not that they don't believe in the vaccines. They know they exist. But they don't believe they need them. What they mean to say is, "I don't believe these diseases are so deadly that I need to vaccinate my family."

The misinformation about vaccines has been so damaging to our modern world that with all the other advances we've made, we risk slipping backward a few centuries in the prevalence of treatable diseases.

As my bio-chem doctorate sister reminds me, vaccines don't necessarily make you immune to a disease, but they give your immune system a big headstart in fighting the disease because they 'seed' your body with 'sample antibodies'. But you still have to make enough of them once a true infection happens. With whooping cough, well, it's not called the "100-day cough" for nothing. These children have been diagnosed and now get to live with a painful, wracking cough for the next six weeks, day and night. Antibiotics MAY shorten the duration but not the symptoms. Think about when you get a chest cold and you cough until you get that pain right over your breastbone. Now imagine that gut-wrenching cough for two-and-a-half months, keeping you awake at night and through your whole day.

The facts about diseases like whooping cough are:
1) It's deadly to kids and other immuno-vulnerable people (elderly, people with MS, ALS, etc.).
2) It's preventable but there are massive outbreaks in North America because when you skip the vaccinations it circulates through the population and starts to mutate as our bodies fight it with varying degrees of 'natural immunity', making the vaccine less effective and requiring more research into new vaccines.
3) 'Natural immunity' that is achieved by having the disease fades in your own body over time. If you have it as a kid, you still are susceptible later in life to it if you don't get the adult booster.

It's easy to get vaccinated. The tetanus booster is normally packaged with it because all the research shows these are safe together, so PLEASE ask for the DtaP vaccine if you need to get a booster.

Look, if you know me, you know that I'm a hippie dip pie, new-age-y, weird girl. I believe in stuff that science doesn't understand (stone energy, auras). I'm a pretty kooky conspiracy nut when it comes to big pharma and government walking hand-in-hand over the rights of us as consumers. My view on some vaccines is sceptical, at best (e.g. Gardasil). You also know I am not exactly in love with needles.

But vaccines work. Especially the ones in the Alberta Vaccination Schedule. PLEASE, check if you need to get your vaccinations updated. Not for me or my son, although you help him if you do (Herd immunity is real).

Get them for the sake of your kids' grandparents, your friends' kids' grandparents, YOUR grandparents, and the person you know who has MS, ALS, cancer, celiac, arthritis, or any disease that makes their immune system go wonky and makes them at risk for catching something that can kill them before 'modern medicine' can help them.

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