The Social Function of Vaccine Resisters

vaccine Vaccine Resisters come in many flavors — myself being one of them, having modified the vaccine schedules for my children. Other vaccine resisters may totally object to all vaccines — a position I do not support. Nonetheless, pro-vaccine people should know that vaccine resisters have and continue to fulfill an ironically desirable social function.

Vaccines are incredibly beneficial:
Don’t get me wrong, I am a medical provider and have had my own kids vaccinated (albeit on a schedule of my choosing).  But the wonderful safety and effectiveness of our vaccine system is partial due to resistance of some parents to routine, mandated vaccines.

Pharmaceutical companies are a great boon but must have checks:
Companies have produced wonderful improvement in both the variety and the quality of vaccines over the years. But it must always be remembered, that pharmaceuticals only have our best in mind as long as “our best” entails our purchase of their products and thus (like all companies) in this sense, they are not to be trusted. This is the source of the adage “Consumer Beware”.   Like food, transportation equipment, structural equipment and even some toys since drugs can have deathly consequences, so as consumers we need to be extra careful.  Though these companies also are a huge benefit to our country, to safe guard from their dark side, our society has evolved several checks. I feel that consumers are part of the check system. I do not want just the government to act as a check. Consumers must always be the most important check. And I feel that a subgroup of consumers, the vaccine resistors, are part of that natural check system which have benefited us in ways unrecognized. Many of the safety checks in our present system exist exactly to appease the errors pointed by earlier resistors.  And though they point to false errors, they have been right several times.  But more than that, their hesitations, accurate or not, keep both the government and the drug companies more diligent.

Vaccines are not harmless:
Vaccines are incredibly helpful to the health of our society but they are not without harm. I will not go into the history of vaccines that have been pulled and changes to vaccines which once harmed. But if you think they are harmless, visit this government site: National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program to see how from 1989 to 2009, even after many unfounded cases where thrown out, many were considered valid enough to receive > $1.7 billion in compensations for vaccine injuries.

Keep Vaccines Voluntary:
To maintain the consumer check on vaccines, I vote to keep vaccines voluntary. Yes, the voluntary nature will have its drawbacks including  potential of some parents harming their children.  This is where the argument gets very controversial.  But I think the drawbacks of a voluntary system outweighs the down side of a mandatory system — just my opinion. And even though there are weird folks out there, there are still lots of people who raise good questions about vaccines that are important to raise. And in addressing these over the years, our system has grown stronger.

Some of the questions we need to keep asking:
1) Which vaccines?
Vaccines were first developed for high morbidity, high mortality illnesses — that is, illnesses that kill or cause great suffering or permanent damage. But it is possible to also create vaccines for illnesses that are only a nuisance. Just because a drug company creates a vaccine, do we really need to use it. If vaccines are mandatory, people will not be able to choose. If a drug company creates a vaccine and knows they can make a huge profit by lobbying the government to enforce the mandatory distribution of their product, we loose essential freedoms. Fine, let people experiment with it who desire. But don’t make it mandatory.  If vaccines are made mandatory, then if a drug company creates a vaccines for a low-morbidity, non-lethal illness, they or the government could still just add it to the list of “mandatory” vaccines.

2) Unknown Ecological Effect:
We still don’t understand much of the complexities of immunity and our own bacterial/fungal/viral ecosystem. Many organisms live on us in small numbers and in relations to other organisms. We have already shown that if you cut down on strept organisms, staph organisms prosper. As with any ecosystem, we should tamper slowly. Allowing voluntary use of vaccines will allow people to discover these relationships while maintaining freedom.

3) Vaccine Schedule:
All kids don’t need the same schedule for vaccinating. We are not all at risk in the same way. The vaccine schedules are made to be most convenient for the providers and to be sure more vulnerable populations are protected. But again, the schedule should be voluntary too.

Though I think I have put forward a fairly level-headed middle-ground position on vaccines, only 1/3 of readers seem to agree with me my position of voluntary vaccines — see the poll below:

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Last updated for clarity & new info on 5/20/09
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17 Comments

Filed under Health, Science, Vaccines

17 responses to “The Social Function of Vaccine Resisters

  1. Pingback: Do antivaccers play a social function? « Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

  2. Storkdok

    You seem to think that anti-vaxxers are the only ones who will suffer the consequences. There are a lot of innocent people who are harmed by their beliefs.

  3. @Storkdok
    Indeed !
    Those who also don’t get vaccinated can get hurt — but then that is their problem.
    But, those who are immune compromised (diabetes, AIDS, infirmed elderly or kids who are not yet vaccinated) can get hurt — and that is bad.
    So, just because I say we need to recognize the benefit we have from vaccine resisters, does not mean I think we should encourage it. I am just trying recognizing the complexity. There is a trade off here, and I agree and lean toward the vaccination risk than no vaccine risks. But there are risks with vaccines. And public health policy is pressured by drug companies who introducing new vaccines. And then, the rate at which you vaccinate a kid is not tested. So why do I have to vaccine my kid with Hepatitis B at birth if he is not at risk, or Polio. Those can wait. And there are many examples like that. The policy is developed for the convenience of treating the masses, not an individual.
    My point, this stuff should not be law — it should be voluntary.
    If you don’t think there is risk, see the National Vaccine Compensation Program data : Since 1989, >$1.7 Billion in Awards for injury by vaccine, not to mentions >$60 Million in lawyer fees (though many are thrown out).

    Hope that gives you a better idea of my emphasis. I am NOT saying that vaccines are bad. I am saying this is not as black and white of an issue as Skeptics seem to exaggerate in response to, agreeingly, more grievously exaggerating opponents.

  4. Bee

    I enjoyed reading this post. I rarely speak up about the vaccine issue because to often I’d be ridiculed for my comments and not taken seriously at all.

    As a health professional I cared for vaccine damaged children.

    Years later, I had two doctors tell me they believed our second born had suffered vaccine damaged.

    I researched the whole issue and I firmly believe immunization should be voluntary. We line people up one after the other and don’t take enough time to do a thorough health history and we certainly don’t give “informed consent” when it comes to educating parents about the possible harm that can come from vaccines.

  5. @ Bee — I agree, they should remain voluntary !

  6. Jedi's Bane

    Sabio, and Others,

    I know this is an old post and much of the conversation has abated, but I recently read this Article on HuffingtonPost.com. The article is written by a practicing pediatrician. He makes a lot of good points about vaccines. Like myself, Sabio, and others I am a practicing Physician Assistant and find myself wrapped in argument and anger when the topic of vaccination arises. One of my co-workers adamantly refused to vaccinate her newborn son (now 10 weeks old). Through the frustration of limited day care options and, what I consider a fat dose of reality she relented and had her vaccinated, but she was fiercely oppositional up until that point. Please enjoy the article, it is part of a series by this pediatrician.

    Warm Regards to all,
    JB

    Source: Huffintonpost article

  7. Max

    @ Jedi’s Bane: My thoughts on your Pediatrician’s article:

    1) He points out that in 1980, the DPT was a soup of over 1000 antigens but today it only contains 3-5 antigen. Likewise, I wonder how we will be criticizing our present techniques 30 years from now. Remember, the propaganda back then is the same as today’s: “Vaccines are perfectly safe.”

    2) In the next breath your community approved Pediatrician says too many shot does not overwhelm the baby’s immature immune system. So why do we care if there are > 1000 antigens in the 1980 DPT — the more the better, according to him.

    3) He then likens vaccine antigens to airborne and food born antigens while these are blood borne with preservatives, carrier substances etc. Made in factories by humans who make mistakes.

    4) He talks about shots being delayed. Hep B is a great example. It is blood born. So if parents are not at risk, the child is essentially fine until sexually active. That he doesn’t mention this makes me not trust him. He is the kind of guy who buys the whole package, it seems.

    5) He plays with stats: He says mitochondrial disease is “rare” at only 1 out of 5-10,000 and not to worry. But we should worry about influenza which YEARLY is 36,000 Americans — wait, do the math, that is the same ratio (1:10,000) and probably much smaller since the influenza virus kills the elderly too.

    Conclusion
    There are other flaws in his reasoning. But don’t get me wrong, I think vaccines may be useful, I just don’t buy in as much as he (or you) seems too. Remember, to stay credible among his peers, your pediatrician must buy into the party line of his physician colleagues. If his peers start bad-mouthing him, his livelihood is in danger (though I doubt he acts on this consciously — it is how humans operate). Consider how easily you read this article without questioning.

  8. Axel

    I would not accept mandatory vaccination. Not for me and not for my children. Nobody has the right to force something like that onto people. Are we free or not to decide about ourselves? Sometimes I doubt that this is a free country any longer. Where are our constitutional rights in this mandatory vaccination issue? I guess a little more openness and education about the issue could help as well. Except if someone needs to hide something.

  9. Jedi's Bane

    Sabio and Others,

    You may simply want to skip this rant.

    I had a very intriguing and ultimately frustrating discussion with a vaccine resister the other day. Again, for those of you who do not know me I am a physician assistant (PAC) working in a semi-rural Urgent Care clinic on the Panhandle of Eastern WV.

    My 3rd year med student and I were about to see three young boys ages 10, 12 and 14 for Boy Scout physicals. These physicals are basic, heart, lungs eyes and of course the somewhat universally dreaded ‘turn your head and cough’ testcular/inguinal hernia exam. Prior to going into the exam room I glanced over the vital signs and past medical hx on each boy and was struck by the fact that none of the boys were vaccinated, except for Tetanus. There was a little box check marked that claimed that the children were exempt from vaccines for Religious/moral reasons.

    After reading this I looked at the Pt names, all of their first names were Old Testament names. So I looked at Gunter (my med Student) and said, I bet you they are very religious, Home schooled and have many siblings. Turns out I was accurate in my assumptions.

    We walked into the exam room and introduced ourselves, certainly playing the role of good PA. Despite ideological differences, ultimately the safety and wellbeing of the children is paramount. I asked the Mother, gently, what her reasons for not vaccinating her childern were. She smiled and said that ‘we leave the health of our children in God’s hands’ adding ‘We are very prayful.’ This struck me as odd on several levels, not least of which was the fact that all of her 7 children had a tetanus vaccine at some point, due to an open wound requiring stitches.

    After concluding the physical exam I asked the Mother if she would step out for a moment while I do the testicle/inguinal screening. The Mother simple replied ‘ We skip this part.’ Now, for you non-practitioners out there, let me tell you that checking a boy or Man for testicular pathology is not the highlight of my day…ever, it ranks up there with prostate screening. So, I wasn’t dissapointed in a ‘got my jollies’ sorta way. I asked the Mother what her objection to the exam was. She stated that if her sons had a problem ‘down there’ that they would tell her. I then said ‘so you don’t want me to complete my exam, screen your children for something potentially life threatening and you want me to skip a portion of the exam form that is required.’ She simply said yes, that it was unimportant. ‘So your gonna take the ostrich approach,’ is all I could think to say that was gentle, but meaningful. There was no response, then she said ‘I have two sons who made it to adulthood without a problem, so I think we will be fine.’

    The whole interaction was so bizaar, yet strangely banal. That a Mother would allow a heart and lung exam, both of which are very non-specifc in this age groups and not allow a screen for hernia and testicular cancer (most common in ages 15-35) is so representative of underlying ignorance, poor judgment and blind religious ambition. The lack of vaccinations, in this case, were obviously spawned from this same cancerous thought process.

    As I mentioned, a pointless anticdote.

    May the Flying Spaghetti Monster save us all…

  10. I was with health care providers on an outing and watched 2 of them buy lottery tickets. We all suspend logic in select areas in our lives. Some people put colored tattoo ink into their skin (if only they saw what Dermatologists see with that), others ride motorcycles, others keep weapons easily available in their houses, the list goes on and on. I have my list too. We are funny animals. Sometimes we just need to cut each other a little slack.

  11. Jedi's Bane

    Sabio,

    Although I agree, I gotta admit that your lack of forsight is glaring. I find it very unlikely that a prosecuting attorney would ‘cut me some slack’ if I failed to screen a early testicle cancer or torsion.

    Let’s face it. Her decision to not allow this exam, Potentially affects Her, Her children, Me, My professional practice, My income, and ultimately my children.

    Lastly, she came to me, a western medicine practitioner, for a screening medical exam of her child. You have to consider the context.

    For me, cutting of slack occurs when I don’t charge a pt for a follow up visit, or when I help a single mother of 4 with refills of medicines or if I take a call at home-off the clock. Slack should not equal negligence.

    Peace Brother.

    JB

  12. @JB: In the chart you simply write, “Pt’s Mom refused exam”

  13. Vaccines are POISON. The only one[s] who benefit from vaccines are PHARMACEUTICALS. Lots of Vitamin D will protect you from the flu and many other diseases. DON’T be fooled by paid off media hype. STOP the sickening assault on humanity.

  14. This post, of mine, has drawn the most people to my blog. For that very reason I have often thought of taking it down. “Stop the Vax’s” comment, in all its explosive exaggeration is a good example of unwanted traffic. But perhaps leaving up such comic rhetoric accomplishes more than deleting the post.

  15. Keep the post!!! If nothing else it really emphasizes people present mindedness. “Stop the Vax” is a prime example of this. It wasn’t even a century ago when children were commenly deformed from polio or dying left and right from epiglotitis.

    Although, I have to admit that the whole argument seems a bit futile. I might put a vaccine post on my site, just for the traffic!!! LOL!

  16. Laughing hard enough for a change of pants !

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