By Katherine Perez-Morera
In world of globalization and overpopulation, keeping a child’s immunizations up to date is pivotal and, though I understand that parental figures hold the final say in whether a child will be immunized or not, I hold that if a child is not following the indicated vaccination scheduled the parents of said child should respect the community and keep that child from places where other children spend time. The recent measles outbreak at Disneyland came as a wake-up call to the state of California and it was followed by governor Jerry Brown’s decision to deny religious and other personal-belief vaccination exemptions for schoolchildren. Anti-protection parents might reject my position and Mr. Brown’s call, but it is tacitly understood in our civilization that each of us has signed a social contract with one another as an agreement to be part of a safe harmonious society, and this contract delineates the boundaries between our rights and our community’s. It is important to note that there’s plentiful evidence supporting vaccinations as a way to keep us safer. There is of course, and I think this should go without saying, nothing that will keep an individual 100% safe from diseases or other maladies – that is just the way that reality works.
I want to directly address parents who choose not to vaccinate by asking them to please keep in mind that my words are not meant as an indictment on your character, they are simply a health-professional’s and children advocate’s advice to parents who want to keep their kids safe from preventable diseases. You may take this advice or leave this advice, but this is my advice as a health worker, a pharmacist, and I don’t intend to change it unless scientific evidence arises that goes against that advice. In fact, take this as my word that if any one reading this can provide strong scientifically-backed data that goes against what I am saying, I will submit a partial or full retraction. I’m a person of my word, and my word is as follows: objectively speaking, the world is a safer healthier place thanks to vaccinations.
A newborn’s immune system is naturally less effective at fighting infections than an adult’s. This is so because a human being’s immune system is fine-tuned as they are exposed to the world around them. Think of our immune system as itself a child – it knows little until it learns it from its environment – this feature is what gives our immunity the specificity to keep us from chicken pox if we got chicken pox once. Said specificity is an adaptive mechanism that is beneficial to taylor a person’s immunity to the pathogens present in the ecosystem this person lives in. In times when traveling was not as easy to do as it is now, human beings were much more fragile to pathogens present in foreign communities, but they were healthy in their own. Now keep in mind that for most of human history traveling has been much more difficult than getting a $300 ticket from Southwest airlines on your iPhone today to head from Miami to Los Angeles tomorrow – this ease of travel means that those living in cosmopolitan areas such as the greater Los Angeles area are constantly exposed to new pathogens. This is often fine for most adults because the immune system is specific but not exact, and most of all have been exposed to so many pathogens in our lifetime that our immunity can easily recognize new pathogens as detrimental and it gets rid of them without us so much as sneezing a couple of times.
Keep in mind, however, that this is not so for a child because, again, their immune system hasn’t learned enough yet. During the first years of life children are particularly vulnerable to diseases and if a child is exposed to a viral infection that their immune system has never encountered, and if so happens that this virus is highly virulent, the chances of that child surviving are not going to be as good as an adult’s. Have you ever wondered why infant mortality rate is much higher in less developed nations? It is not only human factors that keep these rates high, it’s also biological ones – some nations, be it for lack of access or lack of education, vaccinate their children at much lower rates than the United States.
As a pharmacist, I can see misinformation that began with Andrew Wakefield – a former physician who wrote a fraudulent paper linking the MMR vaccine to autism – and that spread with Jenny McCarthy and other such spokespeople insidiously disseminating to the rest of our communities. This worries me because the choices we are making based on this misinformation are now harming children and adults alike. Adults can choose what to do and not to do, but often children are at the mercy of our sometimes-flawed decision making. We can all agree that it’s important to keep children healthy and given the Disneyland tragedy, I think we can also agree that allowing once-rare diseases to spread to the young is irresponsible and it breaks that social contract that we, in our society, have made with each other to be civil and decent to one another.
I want to remind you readers that most vaccines do not contain the active pathogen, which means that regardless of how infectious that disease is and what symptoms a human develops when experiencing it, a person will not – and I’m emphasizing this because it’s that important – WILL NOT experience the disease from getting the vaccine. Most vaccines only contain the portions of the pathogen that are necessary for our bodies to develop an immunity to it. Ask your physician, your pharmacist, your nurse or any other health professional of choice what kind of vaccine your child is getting, get informed, read about side effects, but do not allow misinformation to guide your decisions. The safety of our society and the well-being of our children should be important enough that we take the time to do our research before we step into community playgrounds and parks without protection.
Katherine Perez-Morera is a writer and health professional who graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s in classical studies and a doctoral degree in pharmacy. She focuses her professional life as a pharmacist on promoting outstanding patient care and studying neuroscience. She’s passionate about education and engages in it through her writing as well as through one-on-one patient interaction. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and she welcomes questions.