Thanks to the measles outbreak, the news is full of stories on vaccines and anti-vaxxers. The blogosphere and Twitterverse and all the other social media dimensions are buzzing with invective against ignorant unvaccinated savages and their backward science denial. For the record, I’m a pro-vaccine physician. My children have been and are vaccinated, despite being unsocialized homeschoolers.
I’ve had my own share of needles; Physicians are mandated to have hepatitis B, influenza, and all the other standards. As a former Air Force officer, I also enjoyed the singular delights of typhoid and yellow fever immunization (although I managed to miss out on smallpox).
Granted, I have been unimpressed by this year’s influenza vaccine. Science and scientists are imperfect; sometimes vaccines are as well. If you don’t believe this, chat with someone who was paralyzed by Guillain-Barre syndrome after a vaccination.
While watching the many recent news stories and Internet posts on vaccines, the thing that has most intrigued me is the sense of superiority by those who are pro-vaccine. It’s the old “anything for the children argument,” coupled with “everyone who disagrees with me is a knuckle dragging idiot.” I think it merits discussion because there are quite a number of things that are good for children, but which are not so generally accepted by modern Americans.
For instance, it’s well known that modern kids don’t exercise enough. We are growing generations of overweight children because they simply don’t go out and play. Despite our knowledge of this, their parents lavish them with televisions, video games, tablets, and smartphones and plant them squarely in front of convenient electronic nannies at the earliest possible convenience. From what I’ve seen in some of my pediatric patients, it’s much easier for mom or dad to text their friends or play poker if the toddler is busily watching Frozen on the iPad. What could go wrong?
Next, how about antibiotics? By which I mean this: Well-educated, pro-vaccine parents still go to the pediatrician expecting (and too often receiving) antibiotics for the viral head-colds their kids are spewing. “Whenever he gets this, his doctor gives him some amoxicillin, and he gets better every time, so I’d really like a prescription.”
Of course, he was going to get better anyway. What are they, anti-science? It’s well known that antibiotics are overused, for everything from head colds to cough, ear infections to sore throats. Sadly, my colleagues often cave to the pressure and steadily, more strains of bacteria are resistant to the drugs we count on to kill them.
Guess what else research tells us? Hold on, because this is going to be difficult. Kids are more upwardly mobile when they live with a married mom and dad. And even poor kids (in single parent homes) do better when they live in neighborhoods where there are lots of stable two-parent families. I mean, you can deny it, but, you know, science. Not only so, when dads are at home (you know dads, those old, out-of-date accoutrements from ages past), the kids are less likely to get into trouble with the law, with drugs or with promiscuous behavior; a few among a host of positive side-effects caused by involved, physically present fathers.
And, of course, there’s the fact that promiscuity and depression in teens may be related. (Whether causally or not is debatable, but there is an association.) In addition, according to HHS, “Four in 10 teen sexually active girls have had an STD, which can cause fertility or even death.” That is to say, our Hollywood inspired, cool parent take on teen sexuality, “Everyone is doing it, and that’s OK” may be a little, well, unhealthy. Sorry, it’s science.
Finally, the cost of college is soaring, and increasing numbers of kids are unable to pay back student loans. This is largely because, despite their amazing, expensive degrees in sociology, gender studies, multicultural studies, film and assorted other less than marketable fields, they simply can’t find good jobs. If we love our kids, and those kids aren’t on their way to really good, lucrative degrees, we should nudge them towards the trades that allowed their ancestors to prosper. In the current economy, they’d be better off as carpenters, builders, plumbers, welders, mechanics and all the rest. Think of those programs as ‘economic vaccinations’ in an era of epidemic financial struggle.
Look, vaccinate away. I’m for it. But if we really care that much about the kids, there are a lot of things we can and should do to secure their long-lasting health and prosperity.
Let’s have a lot more dialog and a lot less superiority in these discussions. And let’s remember that vaccinations are only part of a bigger picture that includes physical health, education, economics and the very fabric of our family structures.