Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Vaccines

Forward/disclaimer: I don’t currently have internet access at home, so I am writing this from work, and it will have a pronounced lack of documentation. I’m sure others have done more research on this and can add some sources at their leisure. As a result, this will also have a more personal flair than I would prefer for something medical in nature.

To give some history, someone inquired about me starting a discussion on vaccines, so I thought I’d jot down some thoughts off the cuff. Much thought has gone into this, but I’m time limits me here to summarizing my opinions and experiences. I had thought this was discussed previously on this blog or my old one, but couldn’t find anywhere.

First, are vaccines good for society and our children? Though others would disagree, the answer seems to me to be a resounding, “Yes!” They have helped eliminate or nearly eliminate several formerly common deadly diseases. There are still risks with this medical procedure, as with any. I know my grandparents both got terribly ill from the flu shot a decade or so ago. However, undoubtedly, on the whole the flu shot and other vaccines save many lives each year.

That said, are there any concerns regarding vaccines? This is where the discussion gets more nuanced and much more interesting.

Autism
Several people (I know one family in particular) blame vaccinations on their child’s development of autism. Personally, I don’t think the evidence supports this, but I’m not ready to completely rule it out. Even without the autism link, it just makes sense to me to avoid putting a known toxin such as mercury into a young infants system. My family avoids vaccines with thimerisol and pharmaceutical companies have realized that they can sell lots more vaccines without it so alternatives are readily available.

Is the Schedule Healthy?
Studies years ago showed that people quit taking their kids to the doctor for regular checkups after they got past their toddler years (sometimes before). This left a very large percentage of the population unvaccinated. Part of the solution, doctors decided, was to vaccinate kids earlier while they were still receiving regular checkups in order to inoculate as much of the population as possible. However, is it really in the best interest of the child to vaccinate for say Hepititus B at so early an age? Many doctors will readily admit that they don’t really need this vaccine at a young age and if made to choose between Hep B and other vaccines will recommend that it be delayed until the cycles (including boosters) for other more important vaccines are completed.

Are all the vaccines the best way to acquire immunity?
Personally, I’d rather have my young kids get chickenpox than get vaccinated, and we’ve done that. The median age for chickenpox has risen dramatically in recent years, since the original decision to only give one shot has left numerous vaccinated people with insufficient immunity to resist the disease. They are vaccinated, but not inoculated. It’s a personal decision, but given the ethical considerations later posted, this is a rather easy decision for me. More immunity and no ethical issues. We’ll take the real disease, thank you very much. Comparing my kids experience with chickenpox (even when covered and at their itchiest) with my friends’ experience with an extremely upset infant who was sick and couldn’t sleep the day after being vaccinated (on our shared vacation at a cabin in Colorado), I’ll take chickenpox any day.

Are all vaccines ethically produced?
Sadly, no. Some are produced using cell lines from aborted fetuses. This is a very contentious issue and most doctors will tell you it isn’t true. EVERY single doctor we’ve ever visited has told us it isn’t true. My wife and I have been told that you can’t believe everything you read on the internet (even on the CDC’s website?), that they know so and so who lectures around the world about vaccines and this isn’t true, they are grown in chicken embryos (true for some, not all vaccines) and many other things. The reaction has been quite varied when we have stuck to our story and brought in proof. Some Doctors have accepted the evidence without bluster. Others have been offended. This always amazes me, since in my profession as an engineer, people are much more open to being given new information by a customer. In fact, it is most often greatly appreciated. After this, we’ve been told that alternatives to chickenpox and MMR are unavailable (only partly true, since measles and mumps are available separately from Rubella and alternatives to Rubella using ethical production methods are only available in Europe and Japan). The latest response has been that we will need to pay for a whole shitload of the stuff, since they buy it in bulk and insurance won’t pay for an order of only one or two dosages. We’re currently waiting out our pediatrician on this one and seeing if how much would need to be ordered. After giving us an original response that only one was available, she was very vague on the actual cost and number of dosages (hundreds of dollars, I think was all she said). We’ll see if we can get more specific information out of her. We know a few other people in our shoes and might be able to pull together enough folks to make a bulk order and get the measles and mumps vaccines separately.

Is there a moral obligation to avoid vaccines with manufactured with aborted fetus tissue?
Would there be a moral obligation to avoid vaccines manufactured using martyred Christians or Jewish victims of the holocaust? I don’t think there necessarily would, though to ignore the problem and not seek ethical alternatives would surely be an ethical problem to a pro-life person. The reasoning of my wife and I has run something along these lines. A) Our medical system is run entirely by profits. The pharmaceutical companies will only change if there is a large enough market to make it such change profitable. Ethical alternatives exist. All we need is a large enough market to make pushing them through the FDA approval process profitable. B) Because most people are completely ignorant on the issue as it stands, the pharmaceutical companies have figured that they can get away with this at will and are developing new vaccines using aborted cell lines. This type of research will continue, unless the companies realize that they won’t be able to sell to a significant enough portion of the population to make taking other tracks profitable. C) There is so much ignorance on the issue this is the most effective means of education I know of for informing people about the problem, especially doctors. In my experience, doctors don’t listen to engineers unless that person is their patient and their patient’s care is affected by this idea. It’s the only way I know of to educate doctors, honestly. The pharmaceutical companies certainly haven’t been doing too great a job with this issue.

Resources for vaccines using cell lines from aborted fetuses.

Coriell Cell Repository. Are you a member of a research institution/related commercial company and want to buy your own aborted fetus cell lines? Step right up and give them the cash. http://locus.umdnj.edu/

Children of God for Life. I think their response is too strident, but I’ve yet to find a mistake in their documentation. Best summary out there of *which* vaccines use aborted fetus tissue in their production. Using this website and the sources they reference, I’ve figured out in 5 minutes what my doctor’s staff couldn’t figure out after “much research.”

http://www.cogforlife.org/fetalvaccines.htm

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