Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wired Magazine Rocks! And My Last Word on Vaccines.

Well, it is my blog. And I sometimes get emotional on it. That’s sorta why it’s mine.

For what it’s worth, readers -- and highest hits ever on Monday, woohoo, thanks Google Analytics! -- I’m not calling anyone a fundamentalist or immature if you are wary, cautious, or selective about your vaccines. But I AM calling people in the anti-vaccine movement who think EVERY SINGLE vaccine is bad both fundamentalist and immature. That I stick to with no problem whatsoever. If you say: Every vaccine is badly tested and ineffective at best or harmful at worst; then yes, that is a fundamentalist position that also happens to have no basis in any accepted science. It’s extreme and it’s hysterical, and it ought not be bothered to argue with - and wouldn’t, were it not for the insatiable needs of the internet, 24 hour news media and the like who claim to share “both sides of the story” a.k.a. false equivalency a.k.a. report on the controversy but not the facts.
I believe in healthy debate.

But just like I won’t debate whether evolution is true with you, I won’t debate whether vaccines are equally good and bad. They’re better than they are harmful, and who says so? Unglamorous people like scientists. Science itself isn’t sexy, even. (Though I would debate that, actually.) But if the peeps in this argument can’t agree that vaccines have been useful and powerful and life-saving things in their history, then we might as well question the veracity of Obama’s birth certificate just ‘cause we feel like it, and ignore all the legitimate proof that shows it is valid.

But. Argument and conversations like vaccines, feminism, nature versus nurture, the best pizza in town… they always have a predictable reaction in me. First I get defensive about how damn right I am and then I go, Wait. Where could I be wrong? Where is a middle ground? Where can I try to be a more peaceful person, which will probably require apologies, firm assertions, or both, or more?

So for me, the middle ground is that my reaction to anti-vaccine fundamentalists - or those I react to quickly and have been known to incorrectly rush and label thus - is to fully trust the CDC, AMA, governments doctors, pharmacists, you name it. And of course I can admit that’s not always smart. Mistakes get made, science grows over time and as individuals we ought to be cautious and investigate the world around us. It is my mistake to swing toward “all vaccines ARE amazing” as a reaction, just as others might swing toward “they’re ALL dangerous killers!”

Yes, it is both possible and proven that they’ve hurt or killed individuals. Yes, the good has far outweighed the bad. Those two sentences are provable facts. But from there? We get into the trenches and the muddy middle, and since most of us are not scientists or doctors, we can all – me included - find seemingly-reputable sources to back us up. Thanks (or damn) the internet for that. We can do it all day long.

I can be wholly firm in word and action when saying that the good outweighs the bad – I believe it does, and yup, I am currently up to date on MMR, DtaP, Hep A, Hep B and this week, flu – but I also have to recognize that the saddest, rarest, most real vaccine deaths and stories strike fear into the hearts of many people, largely parents, a category to which I don't belong.

But those factual statements above can exist at the same time!! Huge vaccine advancements and terrible, burning mistakes. And it doesn’t make either of us wrong for focusing on one over the other – though there’s got to be a way out of fear.

This story in Wired magazine is amazing, and I cannot recommend enough that you read it. It captures exactly what I mean about fear - and it reminds us all that there’s a risk in not vaccinating. Yes, it is a different risk. But it’s still huge. And because I am so strongly for one risk over the other, I can admit I make the mistake of projecting onto anti-vacciners the belief that they’re living risk-free. I don’t know for sure if they are thinking that they’re snug and safe/safer, but I sometimes assume they are. My mistake. (Because assuming, as we all know… adds up.)

Some parts of the so-called debate are tricky. The thing about the phrase “live virus” (in certain vaccines in use) is that it sounds scary – but it’s not like a watered down version of a virus, or a small germ. It’s cold-adapted; it dies at warm temperatures which include the human body. So that phrase “live virus” can assault us in layman’s terms, just like an “unpublished” study seems like a good and gotcha find, but is actually just unproven science.

The Wired piece captures the melding of the internet age with medicine, science with the burden in the modern world to know everything. Plus it has crazy vaccines-cause-autism people, too, who think chelation therapy works! It suggests we can’t do everything alone – after all, we live around other people and sadly (or not) their health choices affect each of us. And when I read something like this article, I do find certain concepts familiar to me – thoughts I have had regarding why are there so many vaccines now that we didn’t get as infants? – and I see how that gets shaped and warped into an full anti-vaccine movement for some fearful, protective, good parents. To recognize my own pattern of thinking, even on other topics… that I know more than experts, that we’re all being lied to, that I Am On My Own, that I have to do all the research, that mistakes must NOT be made… is humbling. After all, I do have a bumper sticker that says “Don’t Believe Everything You Think” and often I have to tell my overdrive-running mind that it’s ok. I can trust another human and we’re actually all doing the best we can.

To admit I’ve been wrong when I see it is No Fun At All but there it is – I can’t know everything. I wonder if anyone else sees anything familiar in that article about modern life and the drive to perfection? I'm interested in your thoughts, and I close on a side note…

The vaccine madness makes me frustrated on a grander scale of human thinking and tribal thought. It leaves no room for middle ground opinions, which aren’t very soundbite-y -- ALL vaccines or NONE, the armies tell us -- and that just doesn’t jibe with the way most of us live. We end up defending things we don’t believe in just to belong to the right community and it defeats our personal autonomy and spiritual power.

But I'm not rolling over on this one. There are some solid, certain things in the world, and the statistics of child survival rates in times and places of vaccination cannot be argued. I won’t enter into hysteria that shuts out numbers, stats, history. I won’t respect an opinion that says autism can be cured by a gluten-free diet. I will respect the middle-ground and I will be over the moon when we can all remember that we're not doctors or researchers and that our minds seek proof for opinions we already have. But not everyone gets an equal say. The "everyone wins a prize for trying" does not work when it comes to Holocaust deniers, Obama birthers, people who go for the loudest story over the scientific study. But I will remember that we’re all doing the best we can, we all want happy families and safe homes, and we don’t want to hurt other people or ourselves.

Ahem. Before I become A Pig of Successful Vaccines... the next post is in the works. I'm joining the crew of a web series sitcom here in Portland! I'll talk more about tomorrow and we'll get away from this ish.


  1. Well, I for one don't mind the passion Emily. There has been a most spirited movement in the past few decades in television journalism and the less useful parts of the internet towards "Teach the Controversy." The news editors and internet writers know or should have known that the propagation of such material is responsible for the deaths of a ridiculous number of people. And unfortunately of course vaccines are the tip of the iceberg.

    Here's an article from today's Guardian:

    Obviously these "news" outlets sell a few more papers, get a few more hits so there's something in it for them, but it boggles my mind that people can stack that up against the lives that will be lost.

    However, I am also cognizent that the righteous moral outrage that results from the propagation of these lies and half-lies contributes to the (thrice-damned) controversy. By screaming at them we unfortunately create publicity...which encourages more bad science and more bad science reporting.

    I got nothing here, except, as usual, Shakespeare:

    "Scorn and defiance; slight regard, contempt"

    On a happier note, the top hit for "teach the controversy" on google is:

  2. I like your mind....
    Pursuing the truth with passion is always a righteous endeavor!