Monday, May 12, 2008

It isn't because you're dirty, it isn't because you're clean

My daughter is currently on antibiotics, and she's staying home from school because she has a sniffle.

Why is such an innocent sniffle the cause for keeping her at home, and why is she on antibiotics? Pertussis, or whooping cough.

My daughter goes to a private school, so vaccinations are optional. Many chose not to vaccinate for pertussis (this is actually one we did), and these are the consequences. The Department of Health for the county closed the school for the day on Friday, and is requiring that everyone, regardless of whether they've been vaccinated or not, either take a 5-day protocol of antibiotics or stay home for 21 days. They also have implemented a no-symptoms policy, so anybody with any symptoms, including a sniffle, has to stay home. Sorry, Ariel.

So, swirling around this is the whole debate of vaccinations. As a father, I was stunned at the number and frequency of vaccinations we are supposed to give our children, and which you are required to have before you can enter public schools. I understand, this is all in the name of public health, but as a parent you have to use your intuition a lot, and this just intuitively feels like overkill, literally. It reminds me of the latest discoveries I read about in Science News where there are bacteria in dirt that, when inhaled, create a very strong immunity. Children who are kept away from dirt and kept super-clean are more prone to disease.

I understand vaccinating against horrific and fatal diseases. But many of these vaccinations are for diseases that many of us older folks had as a child: chicken pox, measles, mumps. It was just part of growing up. And there are some real issues here. I am no doctor, but as I understand it, if you are vaccinated against chicken pox and never get it as a kid, then you have a chance of getting it as a teenager, and then it can be *really* bad, whereas if you get it as a kid, then you get a much stronger immunity and generally don't get it when you're older.

I understand then challenge of maintaining public health over trying to protect your child from an army of doctors with needles. I mean, I would be horrified if my child or someone else's child died because of my unwillingness to vaccinate. But at the same time, I wonder what is truly the right thing to do here. We are often so focused on eliminating all and any suffering from this world that we fail to see the ultimate consequences. As an example, part of the reason the plague pounced upon Europe so badly in the middle ages is because humans had been so successful at eradicating the wolf, which, you guessed it, was the primary predator for rats.

I couldn't tell you what the unexpected consequences may be for so much vaccination, but I can tell you that it feels like overkill, and I personally recommend that as a parent you do your research and try to make informed choices about which vaccinations you give your kids, rather than blindly doing none or blindly following the protocol laid out by the powers that be.

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