By Julie Obradovic
I read once the opposite of heat is not cold and the opposite of light is not dark, and that in fact, there actually is no such thing as either. Cold is what we call the absence of heat, and dark is what we call the absence of light. (Einstein even suggested evil was simply the absence of God.) I believe what we are witnessing with vaccine uptake fits more appropriately into the same argument. The overwhelming majority of parents foregoing vaccines are actually not anti-vaccinationists. They are more aptly described perhaps, as absent-vaccinationists. To be sure, absence of vaccination does not equal anti-vaccination. Without the issue being put into the proper context it may be difficult to effect change.
I will explore the reasons for the absence-of-vaccination phenomena as I see them shortly, but there is little doubt it is exacerbated by this flawed position that someone concerned about or critical of vaccines, particularly with regard to policy making, conflicts of interest, necessity, oversight, and safety, is against them entirely. Compounding the problem, these concerned people are then labeled impressionable conspiracy theorists who can't think clearly and should be dismissed from pediatric practices or have their insurance premiums raised. Even less helpful, and more recently, some have gone so far as to suggest they are irresponsible citizens of the world that should be held accountable for children's deaths.
Clearly this serves no one, fundamentally misrepresenting the issue at hand. While certainly there are extreme positions on either end of the spectrum...all vaccines are always good or no vaccine is ever good...I think it's fair to say the vast majority of people fall somewhere in between. Most people believe that vaccines are in fact a necessary component of individual and public health policies, but also believe, like any pharmaceutical product, it is necessary to scrutinize them, especially where children are concerned. The argument is actually over whether or not there is anything to be scrutinized anymore and who is qualified to do or say so.
Like many others, I have paid close attention to the hateful statements being made about people like myself who believe there remains much to be studied. Bullies in any capacity are not welcome in my life, and it has been with a heavy heart I have watched the bullying of our community. It's hurtful, yes, but most of all, it's concerning. Fanning the flames of anger, hurling ugly insults, and seeking to squash the conversation through threats and censorship is ridiculous. The message has been hijacked. Despite what some would have you believe, this is all there is to it:
Infectious disease is preventable. Autism is too. Vaccinate responsibly. (You could also insert the words "kills, harms, hurts, disables, endangers, is treatable" and "costs" for the words "is preventable".)
While it is my personal belief that Autism is often a much more serious, much more debilitating, and much more life-threatening condition than most infectious diseases (especially since nutrition, sanitation, hygiene, and crisis care have become more readily available) I'm willing to put that aside for the moment. I have no interest in comparing tragedies if that's going to stand in the way of uniting all parents to protect all children. A child dying from whooping cough and a child dying from the vaccine meant to prevent it are equal losses in my book. Measles sucks, no doubt. Autism can too. And right now, Autism affects a heck of a lot more kids for a heck of a lot longer. Now what are we going to do to prevent both?
Well, we can start by vaccinating responsibly. For me, responsible vaccination is:
Individualized. Informed. Intelligent.
Mandate-free. Pressure-free. Toxin-free.
Scientifically sound. Independently tested. Overwhelmingly trusted.
Responsible vaccination recognizes the individual and puts his/her needs first (including the right of refusal); it also recognizes that by protecting the individual you protect the whole and not the other way around. Furthermore, it is based on intelligent, common-sense practices rooted in the precautionary principle which may mean convenience is sometimes sacrificed for safety. More important, it is implemented by informed parents who know their rights and responsibilities, and they are taught how to recognize adverse reactions over the short and long term. Coincidence is no longer an acceptable explanation.
Responsible vaccination is free of mandates. Parents are not required by law to vaccinate their children, but are willing to do so because they trust the system in which the product is created, tested, marketed, administered, and held liable. Parents have always and will always want to protect their kids from infectious disease; they just want to do it wisely. Because parents are partners with their physicians, it is also pressure free. And because parents can select the products they want, vaccines no longer contain dangerous toxins or chemicals in any amount. A free market empowers the consumer.
Finally, responsible vaccination is scientifically sound. All vaccinations are studied in the real world setting in which they are administered, subject to rigorous, long term, and independent safety testing. A study of the vaccinated and never vaccinated is done and continues to be monitored over time, and because of this, vaccines are overwhelmingly trusted by the public at large....and consequently, the rest of the world.
Sadly, it is hard to deny that irresponsible vaccination has led to this situation. Allowing mercury to be injected into infants and pregnant women? Layering more and more vaccines on top of one another without studying them for safety in simultaneous administration? Standing by science that denies either of those practices as being problematic for anyone despite all logic? Allowing the Department of Health and Human Services to develop, adopt and profit from the vaccines they are charged with regulating? Allowing vaccine patent holders to sit on policy making boards? Granting the pharmaceutical industry liability protection and allowing them to control the research over the product for which they may be held negligent? Treating all children with a one size fits all policy? Forcing parents of sick children to take on the government, the medical industry and the pharmaceutical industry in a special court? Refusing to study the vaccinated versus never vaccinated? Having a revolving door between public officials and the private industry? Threatening and demeaning parents into compliance? Calling for stricter mandates?
No doubt about it, there are plenty of people responsible for the absence-of-vaccination phenomena we find ourselves faced with....and it ain't us. Shooting the messenger doesn't change the message.
The fact is, irresponsible vaccination has put all of us at risk. Responsible vaccination can protect everyone. And really, isn't that the point?
Julie Obradovic is a Contributing Editor of Age of Autism.