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With Kat Von D announcing to the world that she refuses to vaccinate her future child, there has been lots of hype about the anti-vaxx movement. It's time to stop the misinformation in its tracks. Sit down with #TheWheelchairScientist to find out what the deal is with vaccines.
'If vaccines work, why is my unvaccinated child a risk to you?'
The general principle of vaccines goes like this: you get an injection of a portion of pathogen—whether this is on whole but dead viral particle, only parts of it, the surface antigen, or a live but weakened strain. The immune system recognises these parts and creates antibodies complimentary to it in order to quench its disease causing activity. Once this antibody has been made, the “instructions” on how to make it are stored in memory cells within the immune system (B Lymphocytes, if you were wondering), and they can be made again and again upon subsequent exposure to the disease. This is called immunity, and this is why if you get the chicken pox once, you won’t get it again.
Written from the hands of a chronically ill person, bodies by and large are jerks. Individual cells of the immune system, arguably even more so. And sometimes, in a small percentage of people, the vaccine is given, but the body doesn’t produce these antibodies, and the person does not develop an immunity to the disease. We rely on the principle of “herd immunity” to ensure that these people are not exposed to the disease...
In the group of stars on the left (because we’re made of stardust #science), only 50 percent of them got vaccinated. The red stars can reach out (diagonally) and pass the disease on to other red stars. Even if these other red stars did their bit and got vaccinated, but didn’t develop the immunity. In the group of stars on the right, 80 percent (give or take) got vaccinated, and now the red stars aren’t neighbouring any other red stars and can’t pass the disease on. And while it’s true that some vaccinated people can just carry the disease to unvaccinated people, the more people are vaccinated, the less risk there is of that happening. On a larger scale, the more people who get vaccinated, the les risk there is of unvaccinated people catching diseases.
So what? If someone’s not vaccinated, they just get a little sick?
Well no. Pathogens do this thing called mutating. Where one part of them mutates, so it can evade our immune systems defences. This is why you can catch a cold multiple times- it changes and our immune system doesn’t recognise it. And all it takes is one pathogen to infect one red star, and the game is over. Have you ever changed something drastic about your appearance and been told by your friend that they didn’t recognise you? It’s like that. And a whole epidemic of changed appearances (because you look different when you’re dead).
Furthermore, what can be a minor illness for some people, can be deadly in others. For example, flu in the elderly. Some people are medically unable to get vaccinated, for example the immune compromised, or people with allergies to things in the vaccine (REAL allergies, not the allergies you tell wait staff you have so you don’t have to pick the mushrooms out of your meal. I see you.). It’s our civic duty to protect those around us, you’d want everyone to do the same for you, right?
'But vaccines cause autism!?'
No! They don’t! He lied! He said it from his own mouth, he lied! Hundreds and hundreds of studies have been conducted to ascertain the link between vaccines and autism, and every single one of those studies concluded that vaccines do not cause autism.
But while I have you here, risking your child’s life on the off chance it might develop autism is high-key ableist, saying you’d rather have a dead kid than a disabled one. So can you not? Having an autistic child is the risk you take when you decide to have a kid. Having a disabled child is always a possibility when you decide to bring a child into this world. Your ableism is not justification for disease epidemic and changing the lives of millions of people.
Anyway, I digress. The MMR jab is super important! It prevents Measles, Mumps, and Rubella. Each can be life threatening in vulnerable people- including your pregnant best friend, your elderly nan, and your neighbour who’s battling cancer. I actually had the mumps this year, the mildest of the three, and let me tell you how much it sucked. A WHOLE BUNCH. My face swelled up. My face burned every time I thought about my favourite food (because swollen saliva glands), I lost my job, I missed the start of term at university, I was in quarantine for FIVE DAYS, I had multiple swabs on behalf of public health, and it was not cool! It’s 2018, this should be on the way out! And this is just the mumps! Polio is WAY worse!
There are many arguments saying that “Well, all the autistic people I know were vaccinated, so there must be some sort of a causal link?!”, but nope! All the people I know that have been vaccinated went to a primary school of some kind… No link there. They also liked at least one type of fruit. Still no link. That isn’t how it works, and autism is way more common than you think (and that’s fine!). The infamous study only followed 12 people, that’s just plain bad science (and the rest).
But going back to the point, he literally lied. He admitted he lied. He fabricated data. I don’t know why people refuse to believe his lie over the truth (other than ableism, but let’s not).
More on why the study was bad here.
What’s in a vaccine?
Plenty of things, and they’re all equal parts safe and important. I’m not going to list specific ingredients because they all differ, but generally there will be water, the active substance (so pathogen fragment, antigen, body), adjuvant to make it work more efficiently and increase changes of immunity developing, and preservative to make it last from production to delivery. Don’t you always buy food with the longest expiry date so it lasts longer?
All vaccines go through rigorous safety testing to ensure that the risk to you is minimal. Every single counterpart will have been rigorously tested on its own, and within the vaccine. It is as safe as it could possibly be, and any risks have been proven to have been outweighed by the benefits of y’know, not dying from polio.
How do I know if I’m allergic?
In terms of allergies, how do you know you’re not allergic to strawberries until you try them? You get vaccinated by a doctor in a doctors surgery or in a hospital: two of the best places to have an allergic reaction. You’re surrounded by medically trained professionals who can deal with the reaction very very quickly and ensure that you’re safe. Moving forward from that, your doctor is the best person to tell you how this will affect future vaccinations, but it is possible that you’ll never have an allergic reaction to a vaccine again, or you could get an allergy test to determine the specific cause, and go from there.
How do I know if I’m medically exempt?
Ask your doctor. They’re smart people. Nobody is going to vaccinate you if there is a real risk of something bad happening to you. Typical examples of people who can’t get vaccinated are those who are immunocompromised, the elderly, people with allergies to components of vaccines. Having a cold is not an excuse for not getting vaccinated.
I have a phobia of needles!
Doctors and nurses are used to dealing with people who don’t like needles. I don’t think anybody loves getting an injection, but they are important. There are many techniques you can adopt to make the experience more bearable for you. Deep breathing, meditation, music, not looking, bringing a teddy in with you… etc. Nobody cares what gets you through it as long as you’re OK.
Besides, you’re going to get poked with a lot of needles if you get polio. Or mumps, even. Any disease that they routinely vaccinate for needs a blood test to confirm it, so you’re going to get pricked either way, and no, you can’t just avoid it.
I believe in you!
I’m allergic to latex! Can I get vaccinated?
Probably! I’m not going to spew out such specific medical advice in an article, but you most probably can. You can be treated with non-latex gloves, usually nitrile, and other equipment. Your doctor can also check the ingredients to see if there is any latex in the vaccine itself, or whether latex has been used in its production at all.
So, the moral of the story?
Vaccinate your kids, and stay away from anti-vaxx conventions. Especially such conventions that are held in unventilated areas. Even if you’re vaccinated.