A Chat About Vaccination

05 January 2012
There seems to be the beginnings of a whooping cough epidemic underway in Western Australia, and it has brought the issue of vaccination into discussion - not that it ever really goes away. Whooping cough is a horrible illness. When I was expecting BabyG, I asked all our extended family to get boosters; I had a booster myself before leaving hospital, and was wary of taking him out until he hit the six week mark when he could have his first vaccination, which we took him for straight away.

There's a lot of anger directed at those deemed the cause of this outbreak - the anti-vaccinators, and chief target of their ire is Meryl Dorey, head of the Australian Vaccination Network, who appears regularly in the media to discuss the risks of vaccinations. Some of her views are extremely dangerous - she believes in the efficacy of homeopathic vaccinations, for example, and has spoken on Indigenous Radio linking vaccinations with a doubling in infant death rates - which, given the health status of indigenous children, in grossly irresponsible (and that's being generous). The possible outcomes of outbreaks of some of these communicable diseases in remote indigenous communities are horrifying. Don't mistake me - I think that most of what Ms Dorey says is inaccurate and dangerous. I am not anti-vaccination; as I said above, BabyG was vaccinated as soon as he was old enough for his first dose.

However, there is another group with extremist views on vaccination who may be doing just as much harm. The extremist pro-vaccinators. They do not reflect the views of all who choose to vaccinate, or all in the medical profession, but they are so vociferous and shrill they are controlling and stifling debate about vaccination in this country. They hold that vaccination should be compulsory and all who don't vaccinate are harmful selfish idiots. Well, they are entitled to their opinions, but where they become dangerous is where they refuse to admit that there could possibly be problems with vaccination we don't know about. According to them, there are no undocumented reactions, no errors in the testing processes, and in this instance alone, pharmaceutical companies and government are working together without thought of financial gain for the good of all. Anyone who ventures an alternative opinion is deemed a nutcase, a whacko, asked if they wear a tinfoil hat.

Why do extremist pro-vaccinators have these views? Why can they not support a position that holds vaccination is the best defence we have against communicable diseases, and that our goal should be the safest vaccinations for all, and in order to obtain this we need to document reactions and hold the pharmaceutical companies to account? I'm guessing that the reason they do this is that any mention of a reason not to vaccinate will provide fodder for the anti-vaccination group, so they need to shut down all dissent immediately. Their reasons may be good, but the results are disastrous. First of all, problems with vaccines not apparent in initial testing may not be reported when the vaccine goes into general use. Second, if people do develop health problems as a result of receiving vaccines, they are isolated, unable to identify or treat their conditions. Pro-vaccinators warp all logic - where is the evidence, they say, of undocumented reactions; a logical fallacy. Busy, overworked suburban GPs, on the frontline of vaccination provision, may not report vaccination reactions - because of the extra documentation and work required in doing so, because reactions can easily be dismissed as due to other causes, and most worryingly because they themselves fear the backlash from the extremist pro-vaccinators. If there is one thing I agree with the AVN about, is that there should be a mandatory national register of vaccination reactions. If reactions are rare and mild, as the pro-vaccination lobby claims, great! We'll know for sure. But if not, we will be able to pinpoint errors in the vaccines and fix them, and more importantly, scared, isolated parents who can see real changes in their children following vaccinations, will be able to access the support they need.

One of the central tenets of the extremist pro-vaccinators beliefs is that it is insane to think that governments across the world are in league with government and the medical profession to make money pumping kids full of poison. Well, sure. But are we to believe that the system never breaks down? That despite the extensive testing, something couldn't slip through the system? Not according to the extremist pro-vaccinators. Vaccines, uniquely among the extensive history of medical errors and pharmaceutical product recalls, are completely safe. It's nonsense, of course, but more worrying is evidence form this article in the Buenos Aires Herald that pharmaceutical companies are illegally testing vaccines in third-world nations to bypass safety protocols in the U.S. and Europe. It is extremely concerning that companies such as GlaxoSmithKline would do this - and tragic that the recent illegal trials, in which parental notifications were falsified, led to the deaths of 14 babies. Some very serious questions need to be asked of the pharmaceutical companies. They won't be if the extremists have their way.

The extremist views are so strong I've been hesitant even to write this post, fearing I'll be labelled a whackjob myself. As I've said, my son has received his vaccinations and will continue to do so; all I'm saying is that the extremist pro-vaccination types should stop trying to stifle all debate on the issue, so that problems with vaccines are detected, problems in the testing and approval process are rectified, and we achieve a goal of the safest vaccines for all. I don't think that is so insane.


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