Tuesday, 30 September 2008

One misplaced fear, and we have very real unpleasantness

It's finally happened.

In the UK, rates of vaccination have dropped to the point where measles has reached epidemic proportions and entire schools have closed.

In the USA, measles has slipped from "nearly eradicated", where the only identified cases were from immigrants and visitors, to several hospitalisations this year.

Now, in Australia, vaccination rates have dropped to the point where the extraordinarily painfully unpleasant childhood disease whooping cough has spiked (ABC news Online).

Here's the thing: Vaccination works. Vaccination is no more 100% safe than any other medical procedure is (people with blood clotting disorder can bleed to death after taking one aspirin tablet, for example), but it has no confirmable connection with autism, which is the fear that has lead us to this mess.

Not only are individuals at risk, but we're losing herd immunity.

What do I mean by herd immunity? Vaccination is not 100% effective any more than it's 100% safe. But if most people are vaccinated, then there are so few people who are at risk of catching any particular disease - from no protection or from protection that hasn't quite taken or isn't quite good enough - that the chance of any one of them catching it reduces to the point where it probably won't happen: herd immunity. But when the number of vulnerable people increases to the point where they're in contact with each other regularly, we have an opportunity for an infection to gain a foothold. We lose the herd immunity, and this is what is happening if parents are either afraid of vaccines or can't see the point any more.

I'm just glad that my parents were medically knowledgeable and I got all mine.

Link to ABC News Online story "'Unvaccinated kids' linked to whooping cough spike".

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