Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Stand Up Against Immunization Hysteria

Jenny McCarthy, noted immunization unexpert.
Recent outbreaks of whooping cough in California highlight the dangers of diminishing the "herd
effect" of widespread immunization -- when 95 percent and above are vaccinated, the remaining handful are protected by the herd -- because of non-reality-based hysteria, often spread by discredited doctors and, unfortunately, overly cautious affluent parents who are prone to overprotecting their children.

One particularly grating proponent of this anti-immunization hysteria is former playmate, Jenny McCarthy. Here's what her "contribution" to the debate has produced:
There’s a reason that we associate the whooping cough with the Dickensian: It is. The illness has, since the introduction of a pertussis vaccine in 1940, has been conquered in the developed world. For two or three generations, we’ve come to think of it as an ailment suffered in sub-Saharan Africa or in Brontë novels. And for two or three generations, it was.
Until, that is, the anti-vaccination movement really got going in the last few years. Led by discredited doctors and, incredibly, a former Playmate, the movement has frightened new parents with claptrap about autism, Alzheimer’s, aluminum, and formaldehyde. The movement that was once a fringe freak show has become a menace, with foot soldiers whose main weapon is their self-righteousness. For them, vaccinating their children is merely a consumer choice, like joining an organic food co-op or sending their kids to a Montessori school or drinking coconut water.
The problem is that it is not an individual choice; it is a choice that acutely affects the rest of us. Vaccinations work by creating something called herd immunity: When most of a population is immunized against a disease, it protects even those in it who are not vaccinated, either because they are pregnant or babies or old or sick. For herd immunity to work, 95 percent of the population needs to be immunized. But the anti-vaccinators have done a good job undermining it. In 2010, for example, only 91 percent of California kindergarteners were up to date on their shots. Unsurprisingly, California had a massive pertussis outbreak.
I can only rely on my memories of Marin County news stories -- Marin is an affluent region just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco -- but I recall that affluent, well-educated moms are quite susceptible to falling victim to misinformation about immunization dangers. Long after they're discredited. Worry-wart moms don't "want to take a chance" that the reports are true. The resulting loss of protection often results in outbreaks of diseases once thought rendered to the trash bin of history.

Wrong. Any disease can make a comeback if we relax our guard. Thanks, Jenny McCarthy.

Parents, wise up. Have your kids vaccinated. School districts, stay tough. Don't let hysterical, misinformed parents refuse their shots on "religious grounds." The results are awful:
In 2010, a whooping cough outbreak in California sickened 9,120 people, more than in any year since 1947. Ten infants died; babies are too young to be vaccinated.
Public health officials suspected that the increased numbers of parents who refused to vaccinate their children played a role, but they couldn't be sure.
Vaccine refusal was indeed a factor, researchers now say. They compared the location and number of whooping cough, or , cases in that outbreak with the personal belief exemptions filed by parents who chose not to vaccinate for reasons other than a child's health. (Some children with compromised immune systems aren't able to be vaccinated.)
Pertussis is very contagious, spreading quickly through a community. So the researchers had to map not only the location of outbreak clusters, but also when they appeared.
They found that people who lived in areas with high rates of personal belief exemptions were 2 1/2 times more likely to live in a place with lots of pertussis cases. "The exemptions clustered spatially and were associated with clusters of cases," Jessica Atwell, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and lead author on the study, told Shots. It was in the journal Pediatrics.
This is science, folks, science that works to protect our children. Don't listen to the charlatans.

Footnote. Found the facts on Marin County vaccination rates. It's true, the County has a real problem:
Personal belief exemption rates statewide had remained fairly stable at about half of 1 percent for many years until the late 1990s, when a now-discredited report linked childhood immunization to autism. Since then, the rate has been rising steadily, reaching 2.79 percent statewide in 2012-13.
Here in Marin, the personal belief exemption rate has nearly doubled from 4.2 percent in 2005 to 7.83 percent in 2012-13. [emphasis mine.]
 Come on, affluent, educated Marin, knock it off. This is a public health issue.

Small owie, big protection, miniscule risk.

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