Debate forum: 02/10

Forum Center: Vaccination-gate

By Sarah Sidlow

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reportedly “very worried” about the possibility of a large outbreak of measles – a troubling concern, considering measles was officially declared to have been eradicated from the U.S. in 2000.

Recent statistics from the CDC confirm the disease is spreading across the country, with 84 cases reported in January across 14 states, a 30 percent increase over the first three months of 2014. Measles, a viral infection that affects the respiratory system, immune system and skin, is airborne and highly contagious.

In fact, according to public health officials, 64 percent of current Measles cases can be linked to one outbreak from a California’s Disneyland theme park.

California is a state with one of the lowest Measles vaccination rates – 8 percent of kindergartners there have not been vaccinated.

And those vaccinations are at the crux of the Measles story.

Many states have passed laws mandating vaccination for children attending public schools (although 17 states, including California, have waivers for personal beliefs, and 48 have waivers for religious beliefs).

While public health officials assure the public Measles vaccinations are safe and effective, there are those who are concerned about the possible link between the vaccines and developmental disorders such as autism. Because of this alleged risk, they say, it is important to make sure parents are given the option whether to vaccinate their children, or not. Like many issues, the vaccination debate comes down to how much control people believe the government should have in directing how citizens run their lives and care for their families.

High-profile political voices have also recently entered the conversation. In an interview on NBC, President Obama insisted there is “every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not.” The science, he said, is “pretty undisputable.”

However, Republican Sen. Rand Paul maintains there actually might be a reason to not get vaccinated. He, and other opponents of required vaccinations, claims vaccines should be voluntary because of the “profound mental disorders” he has personally claimed to have witnessed in children who have received preventative vaccinations. However, the issue at hand, he claims, is one of “freedom.”

“The state doesn’t own your children,” he said, “parents own their children, and it is an issue of freedom.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who according to sources does vaccinate his children, also voiced the importance of the parental freedom to decide whether to vaccinate their children.

But public health officials and others who extol the virtues of vaccines say this is now a country-wide problem. They say one parent who doesn’t vaccinate their child has the potential to infect an entire community. They believe in the science of the Measles vaccine and say there is no reason why it shouldn’t be mandatory for all children to be vaccinated against Measles.

Reach DCP Editor Sarah Sidlow at Editor@DaytonCityPaper.com

 

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Should parents have the ability to decide to vaccinate their children, and if so, to what extent?

 

Debate Left: The most dangerous fad

Response By Michael Truax

Most health fads don’t have direct and serious consequences for society. If you choose to put expensive butter in your coffee, your neighbor’s cholesterol levels don’t rise. If you choose to massage kale at the dinner table every night, your kids’ classmates may still have regular lettuce at home. Your detox diet doesn’t make the other Disneyland vacationers feel smug (yet vaguely tired).

When you choose to not vaccinate your children, however, you don’t give that same option of independence to your family, friends and neighbors, classmates and nearby strangers.

Parents get letters home, even fined in some cases, for packing lunches for their kids that do not meet certain food-group requirements. In some schools, students aren’t allowed to bring in homemade birthday treats due to possible food allergies. Kids are, however, granted non-medical exemptions for vaccines, making them possible carriers for disfiguring and deadly diseases. Unnecessary non-medical exemptions have to stop.

“The diseases are rare, though,” the exempting parents say – And yes, it is unlikely their kids will ever be in contact with them. And, besides, their unvaccinated children are covered by the herd immunity: Since other kids and most adults have received the vaccines, the risk to their own families is largely null.

Then, suddenly, these diseases rip through their community. The herd immunity fails when everyone relies on everyone else to have common sense. Herd immunity starts failing as the vaccination rate reaches 95 percent; in some areas, particularly in the wealthy suburbs of Los Angeles and San Francisco, the vaccination rates are far lower, with individual communities heavily tilted against inoculation.

Measles, which can cause complications such as encephalitis and pneumonia, started its comeback in 2014, with hundreds of cases, setting records for recent decades. This year is well on pace to smash last year’s mark for measles cases. 

That’s not as rare as you think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42,000 adults and 300 children die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases.

In addition to the individual health risks, the decision not to vaccinate can cost billions. The CDC estimates vaccinations save $9.9 billion in direct medical costs each year and $33.4 billion in indirect medical costs for each birth cohort. That doesn’t figure the non-medical costs, such as potential decreases in attendance at theme parks such as Disneyland – an area linked to the recent measles outbreak – or the cost of quarantining non-vaccinated children at home in outbreak regions.

The vaccines themselves are partly to blame for this hysteria, but not for the reason the anti-vaxxers believe. The vaccines are so effective, having largely eliminated these scourges – diseases like measles, smallpox, polio, whooping cough and diphtheria – that people in developed countries no longer live in the same fear our parents and grandparents felt.

In 1998, then-doctor Andrew Wakefield published a study in the medical journal Lancet that connected the MMR vaccine to autism. Wakefield and the study itself came under fire for undisclosed conflicts of interest and questionable methods. Wakefield had his medical license revoked, and the paper was retracted.

Though it has been studied and disproven many times, the myth lives. It lives with the people who face the discovery that their child has autism. The parents search for answers, realize that the symptoms appeared after receiving the MMR vaccine – Discovery of autism follows the MMR vaccine, therefore the MMR can cause autism. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

These parents, searching for answers to a difficult question, are not the problem. The problem is the people who use those parents to further their own anti-science agendas.

The charlatan now throwing around his weight around near the forefront of this movement is Jack Wolfson of Arizona. He talks as much about allowing the natural occurrence of the horribly disfiguring, crippling and deadly – yet easily preventable – diseases. 

“We should be getting measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, these are the rights of our children to get it,” Wolfson said.

He continued, “Unfortunately, they mean that some people get sick and some people die. But the reality is that we can’t inject our children with chemicals.”

Diseases are “natural,” he said, while vaccines are not. Therefore we should submit the most vulnerable among us to the harsh crucible of disease. When these vaccine-preventable diseases roam free, infants, people with immune disorders and others undergoing treatments like chemotherapy are at the greatest risk.

Wolfson reveals the heart of these issues: chemophobia. All chemicals are bad; everything bred, cultured or synthetic – *gasp!* – is bad. Wolfson’s position is the sharp left turn of General Jack D. Ripper’s rant in “Dr. Strangelove” about the “purity of essence and natural fluids.”

Of course, that’s a broad generalization, and a ridiculous notion that natural occurrence equals better. Over the past 150 years, these developments, from vascular surgery to antibiotics, have doubled American lifespans. Open heart surgery doesn’t occur naturally; treatment for horrific diseases like tuberculosis require a slew of drugs that are difficult to pronounce, let alone find in nature.

That’s not to say medicine never changes – practices, formulas, timing and methods are always evolving. The people who push medicine forward, however, are trained medical professionals with well-researched, tested and discussed experiments and trials. Our next medical breakthrough will come through the scientific method, not Jenny McCarthy and amateur epidemiologists on the Internet.

Michael Truax is a freelance writer, digital marketing consultant, entertainment enthusiast and bar trivia champion living in West Chester, Ohio. He can be reached at MichaelTruax@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Debate Right: The measles plague

Response By Dave Westbrock

It is strange after we have been through one media hype after another that the public is still being hoodwinked into tuning into the latest hysteria. The current catastrophe concerns the alarming rise in new cases of measles we are seeing nationwide, beginning with the endemic at Disneyland. From the outset, as a physician, let me state that everyone should get necessary vaccines, not only for protection of the individual, but for the population as a whole. That being said, are there exceptions to this and is it appropriate for the term “should” to be replaced with the legal term “shall,” the legal equivalent of “must.”

There are vaccines for pneumonia; herpes virus, which may lead to cervical cancer; hepatitis; shingles and a host of infectious agents aside from the usual childhood vaccine regimen MMR, and the older version DPT to protect children from diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus. I was a “polio pioneer,” albeit a human research subject, in the 1950s, lined up with my fellow third graders to receive the new Salk vaccine. It worked and polio was virtually eliminated. The same can be said for smallpox, a deadly disease for millennia before it was proclaimed eradicated on Oct. 26, 1977 – not that long ago. 

We are now in a new era when young girls and boys at age 11 and 12 are being encouraged (by the CDC) to be vaccinated against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), highly associated with cervical cancer and genital warts, found in highest association with promiscuity. Should that mean that every pre-adolescent be vaccinated for HPV? Isn’t a far better solution to avoid promiscuity? The risk of shingles, the chicken pox virus associated disease, is currently four per thousand population, but the ad word has everyone believing it is epidemic. Now every state except six mandates hepatitis B vaccine for every child to attend daycare or public school. Reports from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicate a reduction in the prevalence of antibody to Hepatitis B decreased only from 1.9 percent to 0.6 percent among ages 6-19 years of age between the early ’90s and the period from 1999-2006. This means a reduction of only 13 per thousand population with no regard to the long term effects of vaccinating all children at birth. Those at higher risk include health care workers including doctors, dentists and hospital workers, those involved in handling blood and blood products and drug users. That is not everyone. Nonetheless, the CDC recommends universal vaccines for children. 

There are those of us who remember President Gerald Ford appearing on national television recommending the entire American public obtain vaccinations against the deadly swine flu. Those same folks may remember the withdrawal of that vaccine following the increased incidence of the paralytic disease Guillian–Barré syndrome, a polio-like disorder that was attributed to the swine flu vaccine, although the CDC reckoned it was responsible for only one case in every 100,000 people who received the shot. That calculates to 333 cases in the U.S. population to prevent that swine flu scourge we encountered in the mid-70s. 

In the politicized environment in which we are now living, people just don’t trust government – and for good reason. Politics have infected the IRS, the Justice Department and even the CDC. Look at the political circus surrounding the Ebola scare, when the CDC consistently dropped the ball in public pronouncements that everything was under control. While the CDC is pronouncing collective vaccines for every imaginable potential disease, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that while thimersol, a mercury based preservative added to vaccines, could not be conclusively linked to developmental disorders, additional studies showed a 2-6 fold increase in such disorders that was dependent on the amount of thimersol in the vaccine. Furthermore, the incidence of autism has increased by 800 percent over the past 30 years. So when you hear “this science has been settled,” be very careful.  

Although measles may be associated rarely with long-term complications, it is in the same realm as that concerning the side effects of vaccines. If parents choose not to vaccinate their children, what are the consequences? In most states, vaccination is mandated for entry in public schools. Should this be only statewide or should it be a federal mandate? Although the U.S. constitution is routinely ignored, the 10th amendment would provide that the states have responsibility for public health issues, except when it pertains to interstate issues, military etc. If states allow exceptions for religious reasons, should such exceptions be made for philosophic and scientific reasons? I agree with the statement by Judge Napolitano, that parents should have a choice and they can either home school, send their child to private schools or bear liability for potential harm to others. The question is, in view of evidence that is not so determined, does the federal government, pharmaceutical companies and expert panels share a higher responsibility?

Dr. Westbrock has been in private medical practice for 35 years. He was the Republican candidate for the U.S House of Representatives in 1994 and 1996. He has written and lectured extensively on the subject of healthcare reform and healthcare policy. He can be reached at Dave.Westbrock@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Sarah Sidlow
Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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