Who knows best?

Last week, I went shopping on my day off.  It was fairly disastrous in terms of purchases, but inspiration for Christmas gifts is trickling through at last!  I perhaps wasn’t totally on form because I love people watching – I can happily spend hours at an airport or in a coffee house observing other members of the public.  On this particular occasion, I actually heard a conversation which shocked me.

I was contentedly browsing a clothes shop when I walked past a pair of middle-aged women who were discussing vaccinations.  I didn’t need to linger nearby in order to overhear, as they were speaking loudly.  The conversation went as follows: Woman A relayed to Woman B that a friend’s daughter had been told that her recently-diagnosed Multiple Sclerosis (MS) was linked to the receipt of a vaccination as a teenager.  Woman A reiterated that Friend’s Daughter had indeed begun to experience symptoms shortly after her routine tuberculosis vaccination at the age of 14.  Woman B gasped in shock.  Woman A then said the following, “they know.  The authorities know that a certain number of children need to be sacrificed” – she believes that a percentage of children will experience extreme negative effects – such as the onset of a chronic condition e.g. MS – following vaccinations, which can be directly attributed to said immunisation.  I was horrified.  Andrew Wakefield has a lot to answer for.

Indeed, the effects of his long-discredited paper were felt keenly by many in the UK earlier this year.  There was a large measles outbreak amongst one age group in a certain geographical area, which many professionals have blamed on parental fear of vaccinating their children.  Yet, suddenly, vaccines couldn’t be produced quickly enough.  By coincidence, I had a full medical this Spring – requested by the American camp who hired me of all international staff – and discussed vaccinations at length with the practice nurse.  When I was a baby, I had measles following a vaccination for it, but they type was never determined and my parents were instructed to ensure that I was rubella immune prior to planning a family in future.  I subsequently had multiple MMR vaccinations at various points during my childhood, and the nurse also believed that I would be safe due to the concept of herd immunity – if a large percentage of the population are vaccinated (and therefore don’t contract the relevant disease), those around them are likely to be safe even if they aren’t vaccinated, as the virus/infection/disease doesn’t get a chance to take hold.  In the case of the UK’s measles outbreak, the local population had hit a point where a certain generation hadn’t been vaccinated, and were therefore also not protected by herd immunity.

It’s easy to say when I’ve had no negative side-effects myself, and don’t know anyone who has, but I still see the great deal of common sense in large scale vaccination programmes.  Children in the UK generally don’t suffer from certain diseases anymore – due to successful vaccination.  Charity appeals constantly ask for donations – to fund international vaccination programmes which will save lives.  New vaccines are still being developed and released – I was part of the first generation to receive a meningitis vaccine, and those coming through the system behind me have benefited from the development of vaccines against HPV (and on that topic, I hope that the UK’s current system of not vaccinating boys is changed very soon – if it is still in use if I am a parent to a boy, he will be receiving it).

What it comes down to is that, whatever – if any – harm vaccines are doing, they are clearly doing a greater level of good.  If they weren’t, they wouldn’t continue to be produced, developed and issued.  They will always be a performance: now that I’m in my mid-20s, a month doesn’t go by without an update on my Facebook feed of a traumatised young parent having taken their little darling to receive vaccinations, and I clearly remember the days of queueing up at school as a teen to get the latest injection, various girls weeping (for attention, mostly) about their fear of needles (these days, I find myself wondering how long it will be before those same girls will willingly subject themselves to poisoned needles to the face for reasons of vanity rather than preventing disease).

Fortune – and science – favours the brave.  I for one am grateful that a bright spark noticed that milking maids didn’t get smallpox, and took the bold decision to experiment with infecting people with diseases without really knowing what would happen.  It could’ve killed them, but it was far more likely that it would save their lives.

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