Why Immunize?

Immunizations for children and diabetes vaccinations

If you have diabetes can you drink alcoholBy

My doctor thought I was going to die. So did all the other docs at my clinic. After all, the odds were against me.

But I guess I didn't get the memo, because I pulled through. Barely. Sort of. Well, come to think of it, I really didn't survive at all. At least not as the man I was a year ago. I lived. So that's nice. But I remain, nine months later, still a shadow of the man I once was.

What horrible disease did I have? Ebola? West Nile? Anthrax?



Don't laugh. It turns out that honest-to-God childhood Chickenpox in adults is deadly serious business. Now, I'm not talking about Shingles here. I'm talking about the annoying but basically harmless disease of childhood that I apparently never got. When contracted by adults, it can kill us. In fact, it kills about 10% of all adults who get the disease.

The older you are, the more likely you are to die. And as you head north of middle age, the numbers start getting really grim. And men are more likely to die than women. And of course, people with chronic illnesses, like diabetes, are yet more likely to die.

So what about a 50-year-old male with diabetes? What are his odds of survival? Hah! As my doctor told me (later), "We were in uncharted territory." I was sick for two months. Not that I remember it.

Still, this brush with the Grim Reaper doesn't upset me overly much. Sure, I'm frustrated that I don't have the energy I used to have, and that everything I do takes so much longer. But what really upsets me is that this happened because someone couldn't be bothered to immunize her children.

OK, I'll be first to admit it: On the surface there are an appalling number of immunizations we are "supposed" to give our children. Currently, for children between birth and age 18, the Centers for Disease Control has a whopping list of 28 recommended shots. In most states, the bulk of these are required for children to attend school, but there's a loophole. Parents can declare themselves conscientious objectors, and not get their children immunized on the basis of the parent's personal, philosophical, religious, or medical beliefs.

You know, it's kind of funny—in an ironic way. We tend to think of the term "conscientious objector" in relation to military drafts, where members of certain religious groups can opt out of military service, but the term actually fought in the Vaccine Wars first.

Vaccine Wars? What Vaccine Wars? Well, back in 1853 the British Government mandated Smallpox vaccination of all infants. If parents didn't vaccinate their children, they were fined 1£ (about 150 bucks in today's money), and even threatened with jail time. Apparently, many parents at the time feared vaccines strongly enough to pay fines annually rather than vaccinate their children, eventually leading to a powerful anti-vaccine movement. It took more than four decades of public pressure, but in 1895 parliament passed the first "conscientious objector" act that provided a means to opt out. It required parents to get a certificate of conscientious objection, and in the first year more than 200,000 certificates were issued. By the turn of the century, the non-vaccination rate in Britain grew to 25%. Now, I gotta say, I cut these people some slack. Diseases were barely understood at the time, even by medical scientists, much less by the general public. You want to inject what into my kid? Smallpox?? Screw you!

But at the same time, kids who were getting the vaccine weren't getting Smallpox, a disease that if it didn't kill you, left you scarred for life. Science, experience, and reason ultimately triumphed, and now Smallpox is basically extinct.

So how did the term "conscientious objector" get moved from vaccines to military drafts? Apparently it was co-opted in World War I (and all wars that followed) as a label for those who refused to fight on moral or religious grounds.

But today the term has returned to its roots. Over the last decade, anti-vaccination fever is spreading (isn't there a shot for that?), and members of this modern movement have re-adopted the label. I don't know if these modern "conscientious objectors" even know that their self-adopted label has historical roots that match their cause, or if they think they borrowed it from the draft. I love these kinds of things. The word-play over time, that is, not the trend of not immunizing kids.

For a bit more (necessary) background, just know that we've been heavily into immunizations in the USA since 1905 when the Supreme Court in Jacobson v. Massachusetts set the precedent that the state could require individuals to be vaccinated "for the common good." Over the decades since, many more immunizations have been added and accordingly, the childhood mortality rate has dropped. Just looking at a 100-year slice of time here in the USA between 1907 and 2007, and just looking at kids between the ages of 1-4 years old, in 1907 fully 1,418 out of every 100,000 children were buried by their parents. By 2007 that number had dropped to 28 deaths.

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Last Modified Date: September 24, 2014

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by Brenda Bell
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