A Quick Note About Vaccinations

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
May 6 2013 2:39 PM

A Quick Note About Vaccinations

No vaccine, no kiss
You heard the baby.

Photo by Every Child By Two

I’m fighting the forces of evil on many fronts today, so I just want to put out a quick note about vaccinations. Over the weekend, I saw a large number of articles about it; some condemning antivaxxers, others talking about the consequences of not vaccinating, and more. They’re all good reading, so I’ve linked to them below with some context for them.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Last week, a 9-week-old Idaho infant died of pertussis: whooping cough. This highly-contagious illness is very serious; even in older kids and adults it causes racking coughs and serious side effects. Imagine coughing so hard you crack your ribs. Pertussis does that.

Advertisement

But in people who are too young to be immunized, or people with immune system problems, pertussis can rage out of control, leading to death. Millions of people get it every year, and hundreds of thousands of them—mostly children—die.

Yet whooping cough is relatively easy to prevent: A simple vaccination is all it takes, assuming enough people take it to create herd immunity. And it’s not just for kids: Adults can get the TDaP (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) booster, because you can carry the disease without having the outward symptoms. And if you visit a young infant, or a family who have immunosuppressed members, you might infect them with it.

And the results of that range from incredibly awful to what is really simply unthinkable. Except we must think about them, because actions—and inactions—have consequences.

But amidst all this, there's good news as well: The media are getting tougher on antivaxxers, as they should. In Canada, Australia, and elsewhere, we’re getting better coverage of this, and it’s looking bad for the antivaxxers. I’m glad.

And I’ll note that in the vast number of cases, when I talk about antivaxxers, I mean their mouthpieces: Organizations and individuals who, willfully or otherwise, spread misinformation about the safety and need for vaccines. I do not mean the well-intentioned parent who is simply concerned over the healthy and safety of their child, and who goes online or talks to friends about vaccines and receives that false information.

To those people, to those who listen to the people giving them false information, I say this. I am a parent myself, and I went through all this with my own daughter. My wife and I did the research, we talked to doctors, we looked at the evidence, and we came to the correct conclusion that the tiny risk of vaccination was wholly and overwhelmingly outweighed by their benefits. That’s why we are all up-to-date with our immunizations, including flu shots, TDaP, and Gardasil for my daughter.

I say this every time, because it’s important: Go see a board-certified doctor, and if they recommend getting vaccines or boosters, do it. The life you save may be yours, or a loved ones, or a baby you’ve never even met.

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Nov. 21 2014 1:38 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? See if you can keep pace with the copy desk, Slate’s most comprehensive reading team.