Paediatricians need to begin to reserve the right not to treat unvaccinated children and schools should publish the numbers of enrolled and unvaccinated children, writes OMESHNIE NAIDOO
described by The Washington Post as a leading proponent of conspiracy theories about vaccines, someone who holds a law, not a medical degree.
The old debunked theories continue to dog society, and lower numbers of vaccinations are being reported around the globe. In places such as Texas, tens of thousands of children are going without vaccines, a 20-fold increase since 2003 according to The Washington Post.
A recent Reuters report labelled France – birthplace of immunology pioneer Louis Pasteur – among the least confident nations in the world of vaccine safety, with 41% of those surveyed disagreeing that vaccines are safe.
This increases the risk of children dying from preventable illnesses such as chickenpox and measles – all while organisations such as the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) and the World Health Organisation (Who) are constantly working to cut high costs of vaccines and distribute them in countries where children – and adults – are dying unnecessarily.
Last year Unicef announced the procurement of a 16-year deal to provide a combined vaccine against five deadly childhood diseases for half the price it currently pays. An estimated 5.7 million deaths a year could be averted under the deal to send 450 million doses to 80 countries from this year until 2020, they said.
The vaccine, a cornerstone of routine immunisation programmes, will protect children from five major infections in one shot: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, and haemophilus influenza type B (Hib).
The South African government often runs campaigns along with roll-outs. Late last year the focus was on polio, vitamin A supplements and mebendazole deworming. The aim of the campaign is to increase population immunity against polio, a potentially deadly illness.
Polio is highly infectious and mainly affects children under 3. The polio virus is excreted in stools and spreads rapidly. One in every 200 children infected becomes paralysed, and any infected child can infect other children. There is no cure for polio, therefore vaccination against this disease is imperative.
And still I take my child to a birthday party on the Berea and meet a mom who tells me sheepishly that she doesn’t believe in vaccinating her kids.
A young niece of mine and most of her class had chickenpox last year.
For a long time most of the fairly developed world was routinely vaccinated. To the extent that in December when my baby fell ill we went through two courses of antibiotics to no avail, and nearly on to a third, to discover after a number of days the telltale bumps behind my son’s ears, that more than likely indicated mumps.
None of us at home on either side of the family had ever had it and we failed to recognise the symptoms. Our pediatrician told us tests to confirm would not be very conclusive and isolation and care was all we could really offer.
It was a chance to be regaled with tales of mumps – one parent said she lost the hearing in one ear after a bout of the disease. For boys and men, mumps can have serious but rare complications, such as an inflammatory condition called orchitis that can cause swelling in one or both testicles.
My other child is a preschooler and I learnt via the grapevine of at least two other chickenpox incidents bad enough to have the entire class sent home.
Vaccinations were always a socio-economic issue, with those in poverty-stricken regions often dying of entirely preventable diseases, while the rest of us used government facilities or forked out to protect our families.
These days the most affluent families feel that what is for the masses is not for them. Now thanks to Trump and the like, a simple preventative medical advancement is a convoluted conspiracy theory.
Vaccines aren’t guaranteed to work and the rare child will react, but herd immunity and routine inoculations will offer control.
A few years ago I met Jodi Picoult, one of the world’s most prolific best-selling authors.
She was in Durban and had just written House Rules, a novel that pivoted on autism.
She was intelligent, eloquent and her arguments were compelling. It was the first time I had heard about moms claiming to have had “normal babies” who, after vaccines, became autistic. A seed had been sown.
Years later my own child, after a vaccination, swelled at the point of the jab, ran a fever and broke out in bumps, and in his weak state I began to see the non-responsive traits I’d heard of in autism.
It was a lonely fearful moment and time seemed to stand still for us. No one had answers for me. He wasn’t old enough to speak and I wondered if he ever would.
I was told days later that there were no other problems with ‘the batch’, and that as he had been born two weeks premature, he should have been vaccinated two weeks after the recommended time. He got better. Adverse reactions are rare. Yes, some children do react to vaccines. It’s a reality.
But history proves that vaccines can save lives.
Children who cannot be vaccinated will be protected by the herd and when a critical portion of the population is vaccinated it is unlikely that an outbreak will occur.
The American Academy of Paediatrics conducted 40 studies that showed no links between autism and vaccines.
This was after the Andrew Wakefield scandal.
In 1998 The Lancet published Wakefield’s research paper suggesting the combined measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was linked to colitis and autism spectrum disorders.
It was a journalist who exposed his multiple undeclared conflicts of interest and the paper was later retracted.
Wakefield was found guilty by the General Medical Council of serious professional misconduct in May 2010 and could no longer practise as a doctor in the UK.
Of course the damage had been done, with what has been described as “perhaps the most damaging medical hoax of the past 100 years”.
Since then it’s been more conspiracy than common sense.
What I know as the mother of two young children is that they are more at risk of harm without the vaccine than with it.
It’s not a chance I’m willing to take – it’s a decision based on scientific fact.
A growing ‘trend’ not to vaccinate children could cause harmful outbreaks, such as polio – a highly infectious disease that mainly affects children under 3 years of age. The polio virus is excreted in stools and spreads rapidly from one person to another.