The recent outbreaks of measles in Canada and the United States came as a shock to many public health experts but they wouldn't have to Dr. Gregory Poland, one of the world's most admired, most advanced thinkers in the field of vaccinology. The measles vaccine has failed, he explained two years ago in a prescient paper.
Drinking and driving is a choice -- however, it's an illegal choice because drunk drivers might kill themselves or, even worse, kill others who didn't have a say in the matter. But at least I've never heard of any drunk drivers justifying their actions by arguing that people die in car accidents not involving alcohol, too. That's the anti-vaccine rationale some parents are using to justify bringing back potentially deadly diseases and putting their children and others at risk, including infants, the elderly and people with immunodeficiencies or on chemotherapy.
The information war over vaccination is an obvious reflection of this fear. Public health has had its hands full during this war, but has failed to really counter the misinformation in vaccine hesitant communities. We are in desperate need for a new message, and a group of high school students from California have made one in a most spectacular way. Despite the myth-makers, the spin addicts, and the conspiracy nuts, cigarette use has gone down, climate science has become even more exact, and vaccines have been shown to be both safe and effective.
In the case of measles, the introduction and widespread use of the vaccine should have allowed us to put our fears away and look forward to a measles-free world. But now that future is at risk. The reasons are varied and will be explored over the coming years but in the meantime, the best way to be prepared is to be informed.
We wait until newborns are two months old before giving them their first shots. Some people have underlying medical conditions that prevent them from getting vaccinated. And in rare instances a vaccination just might not be effective in any given individual. So those of us who can vaccinate our children really should.
Those who question vaccination programs are kooks or quacks, the press repeatedly tells us. The Globe and Mail, CBS News, Mother Jones and even scientific journals like Nature label skeptics as "vaccination deniers," much as global warming skeptics are called "deniers." This wholesale demeaning of vaccine skeptics defies explanation. Granted, kooks and quacks exist in the vaccination field, just as they exist elsewhere. But why taint the skeptics as a whole, and fail to respectfully report dissenting views?
Anyone who has suffered from pneumonia -- or witnessed a loved one battle with the illness -- knows how scary the episode can be. The lungs fill with fluid, breathing becomes difficult and at times impossible, requiring hospitalization, and without proper treatment, the consequences can be dire. Like many illnesses, this too can be traced back to a germ.
While the safety and efficacy of vaccines for childhood infectious diseases is very well established, doubt continues to be sown among well-meaning parents. We need to demand that our government stop speaking out of one side of its mouth about the importance of the modern, science-based immunization schedule, while with the other side approving the sale of useless homeopathic hokum to be promoted as an ineffective alternative. If we do not, we risk a return of deadly childhood diseases like the 100-day cough of pertussis or the deadly, paralytic polio.
Vaccinations are a hot, hot, and very heated topic. We all want to be healthy and we all want to do our best for ourselves and our family to maintain great health throughout the winter season. My best approach is to do all I can to keep the terrain, my body strong and healthy, and focus on prevention strategies.
It used to be that modern medicine was a thing to be venerated, a doctor's words regarded like golden nectar of wisdom. Now, not so much. Once upon a time vaccinations were seen as miracles in a needle, warding off potentially life-threatening illnesses. In the States, the unvaccinating movement has turned epidemic, with as many as one in 10 parents refusing to vaccinate their children.
Because of the Muskoka Initiative children in Africa are being protected from diseases for just a few dollars. Launched at Canada's G8 Summit in 2010, the focus of the initiative is on supporting proven, cost-effective, and evidence-based interventions. Vaccines are just that. Vaccines save lives and help communities to thrive.