My response to the anti-vax twit storm
* This post has been updated, 18th July 2014.
Each week I get asked to join Seven’s Sunrise panel to discuss various topical issues of the morning. This morning I was asked to comment on a news item that reported parents in Sydney’s wealthy suburbs were putting their kids’ lives at risk by choosing not to get them vaccinated. I went on air shortly after 8:30…
In the notes handed to me a little before I went on air, I was told Kochie would be asking me about the basis of the anti-vax movement’s argument. What was their premise? On air Kochie referred to the news item, mentioning that one of the reasons for the phenomenon was that wealthy parents miss the vaccination schedule due to being on holidays, and he asked for my thoughts. And so it was I waded into quite the storm.
I felt I should respond to some of the claims being made and answer the questions being asked on Twitter.
I’m going to be frank, however. I’m pushed for time today. And I’m not very well. Plus, it’s a topic that I’m not an expert in, nor does it touch me directly. And so I haven’t researched it as far as I might another topic that I would normally elect to speak out on.
But I don’t like leaving issues hanging, and I’d like to stamp out any confusion that could certainly be causing some parents upset. Below I share whether I would vaccinate my kids. But first…
* I was called on to share the reasons why some parent’s don’t vax their kids.
I managed to do some quick Googling before going on set to see if there had been any studies on this in Australia. It strikes me as really odd that parents would skip something as important as vaccinations simply because they were on holidays that day. And, surely, given it’s such an important topic, with so much parental engagement, I’d have thought schools would have contingency plans in place for parents who miss the schedule (if they aren’t actively anti-vax). Ergo, I displayed skepticism and shared some thoughts I’d come across online that suggested there were a number of other reasons for the phenomenon. An Australian study (albeit an old one) found that: “Older, highly educated parents form the basis of the [sic] anti-immunisation lobby”. More here, here and here. I shared this on air, in answer to the question.
* Do I have kids? No.
I say this upfront before discussing any topic like this, and did so this morning, too. I don’t want anyone to think I fully understand the challenges parents face with these kind of decisions. I’ll be frank.
I have an immune disease that means I can’t have kids. Very sadly.
* Am I personally anti-vax? No.
As I said this morning, “I’m not going to take a stance on this myself because I don’t know fully”. It’s a topic I’m not wholly abreast of. It’s a complex one.
I don’t like professing to “know” if I simply do not. I won’t speak out on it. Instead I engage in the debate and absorb, absorb, absorb.
If I could have kids, I’d probably look into the topic further.
And I’ll stress what I clarified this morning on air: “I’m just putting it from the perspective of the anti-vaccination movement’s perspective.” As asked.
* Full disclosure: the anti-vax argument does has some relevance to me.
One of the arguments put forward by anti-vax parents is that there is no conclusive proof that vaccinations don’t cause their own set of ills – both short and longterm. Indeed, in the US there is a vaccine injury compensation fund that has paid out millions of dollars to the vaccine-damaged. There have been links made between vaccinations and immune dysfunction, particularly autism, however, the original science that many people refer to has been significantly debunked recently.
I’m alive to these factors in the debate due to my own immune disorder. I live every day with a debilitating condition which, I’ve been told, could be linked to exposure to a range of modern toxins and stressors. Nobody knows for sure and adequate testing of various suspected factors is not possible due to funding and control factors. I live with the doubt hanging over my head.
I personally choose to focus on managing my health as best as I can, rather than looking for conclusive answers and reasons.
I share this, possibly to explain why I have an interest in looking into the other side of the debate. Engaging, questioning.
I also have a friend whose child had an extreme immune reaction to one lot of vaccinations.
Interestingly, in New York a family made news today for not vaccinating their daughter because doing so would risk killing her baby sister. Another layer to the debate.
My friend – a doctor – and I have discussed the issue a few times. Some of the stuff raised in these chats:
Are there particularly vulnerable groups (i.e. those with atopic genes, compromised immune systems etc) who are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of vaccines, that should not be vaccinated?
Is the current spacing of vaccines (i.e. a lot at once) the right approach?
Do we need to know more about how to get the widespread benefits of vaccines without putting ourselves and our children at risk?
All good questions and points that are worthy of a full discussion given it’s such an important topic to us all.
* The science stuff
Without a doubt, 100 per cent conclusive (double blind, crossover, placebo etc) evidence that vaxing is completely safe doesn’t exist. It can’t. I made this point on air. It would be unethical to conduct such a trial. But once again, this is what anti-vax parents question and raise.
Yes, there are countless studies showing that vaccinations control diseases and outbreaks that can kill children. And there are countless studies that point to outbreaks of infections in communities where a high proportion of kids were vaccinated (eg: the whooping cough outbreak in South Australia – 87% of those who contracted it were vaccinated). And there are countless counterpoints to this phenomenon, too.
* Bottomline… should kids be vaccinated?
I’ll cut to it. The factor that really strikes me as key here is that I live in a society where most parents vaccinate their kids. They do so because it’s commonly held that the more kids vaccinated, the safer our community. Vaccinations only really work if everyone does it. One in, all in. I respect that. To this end, I’d vaccinate.
I’m happy for anyone to comment below. I just ask that things be kept respectful, gentle and balanced. And that assumptions are not made. Cool?