The vaccination debate

By | February 9, 2015

It is one of those times when the vaccination debate seems to be raging on social media. As a parent with a disabled child, I have my concerns and fears about vaccines, particularly since the onset of Nisarga’s disabilities happened a few days after his vaccination.

I don’t go around telling people to vaccinate or not vaccinate. I frankly don’t know if his disability is because of the vaccination or because of something else that coincided with it, but I didn’t notice. And because I cannot be certain of that, I don’t go around telling people not to vaccinate.

On the other side, the complete certainty with which pro-vaccine people push their agenda as the whole and complete truth turns science into a religious faith.

What science knows is constantly updating. Things thought safe earlier are considered unsafe later (cigarettes). Things thought to be dangerous earlier turn out to be safe (coconut oil or butter for cooking). These are just two random examples out of many. The idea that science knows all there is to know about vaccines is unscientific. At the same time, calling vaccines unsafe because anecdotal data ‘could’ be proved right one day is equally unscientific. All we have to go with is research data that currently declares vaccines safe.

This data is not without its problems. Here are some problems I faced in ruling out vaccines as the cause of my son’s disability.

There are no reports of your son’s symptom associated with this vaccine

This is a common reply I got. Yet, of dozens of doctors we have seen over the years, not a single one took details to report the onset of symptoms my son faced. Leads me to wonder how many cases are not reported because “there are no reports”. A sort of self perpetuating religious belief.

There is no way to rule out vaccine damage

I have asked doctors over and over if there is a test or something that can rule out vaccine damage. There isn’t. So one wonders where the certainty comes from.

If it merely comes from research, but the system ignores parents actually reporting symptoms developing in their child, how reliable is the research as the final word?

Quality of vaccine

In India, where spurious drugs are hardly big news, and even the government has been known to purchase from suppliers with known problems in quality standards, the research findings are rendered irrelevant, because the actual vaccines administered can still be extremely problematic. Even properly stored vaccines can develop problems in a country where remoteness and lack of adequate standards can result in sub-standard storage or contamination. Therefore the claim of “completely safe” is not just absurd, it is potentially dangerous.

Lack of information that isn’t pushing agendas

There is an abundance of information on the claimed safety of vaccines and claimed risks of vaccines, but there is very little information that isn’t trying to promote a conclusion. It leaves parents uncertain about making an informed choice.

My view

I have my suspicions about the medical industry as a whole and have seen too much to believe that it puts the health of people first. At the same time, I don’t have the knowledge or resources to research vaccines independently to make a decision I can trust. I am certain that some vaccines do work and do save lives and protect against illnesses far more dangerous than the risks.

If I were to have another child, rather than avoiding vaccines completely or embracing them completely, I would select key ones to give based on incidence of the disease in our region, danger of the illness protected against to the life and long term health of the child, and frequency of reported harm from informal anecdotal routes. I would additionally recommend parents, particularly in India to go the extra mile to ensure that other potential causes of risk can be reasonably ruled out – purchasing from reliable sources, checking expiry and so on.

It would be nice if the doctors honestly recorded parents reporting reactions in children after vaccination instead of saying “oh, it doesn’t happen, there is no record of it (because we don’t record it?)”. It would give parents real information to make an informed choice instead of having to rely on cherry picked information from either side.

It also needs to be remembered that the chances of the vaccine preventing the disease it claims to prevent are higher than the chances of adverse effects, so vaccines for life threatening diseases prevalent in my region may not be such a bad gamble – even if vaccines came with some risk. Would I give my child a small pox vaccine if reports of cases in my region emerged? Damn right I would. Would I vaccinate him for Hepatitis B – which is primarily contacted through bodily fluids, infected syringes or sex – if I was clear at time of birth? Probably not. Particularly since the protection would not last till the time they came of age to be sexually active. If my child were sick and needing surgical procedures or frequent injections or be in places where infection from urine of other people, etc would be a risk? I would consider it. Would I give it to him if I were in some rural place with dubious medical services (like most of India)? Probably not. Would I vaccinate my child for chicken pox or the flu? Nope. Cervical cancer vaccine? Never. Heard too much pushing from profiteers (who conveniently fail to mention is doesn’t protect against all types) and too many stories of harm. How many people get cervical cancer anyway in a currently barely vaccinated population?

My last thoughts on this subject is that there is a need to stop reducing science to blind faith and provide the masses with enough data of reports and research and questions raised that they can make an informed choice. There is also a need to stop treating vaccines like one monolith as though they are all equally effective and equally necessary and that people owe it to humanity to inject each and every one into their child.

There is a need to elevate thinking on this issue and that cannot happen if supposedly educated people create “scientific” superstitions around vaccines.

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