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Vaccines and Quackery
Please do not ask what prompted this post, it is long, complicated and frankly unimportant.

60 years ago I contracted polio. Most things from my infancy are difficult to remember. I do remember the nurse with the stainless steel container of steamed wool pads entering my hospital room, pads she would wrap me up in (the sister Kinney treatment developed by a WW1 nurse), I remember crying out as my mother, who visited me through the window, had to leave, I remember being in the nursery ward after I left isolation, I remember the mark on the swimming pool rail which was the limit of where I could go when I was in physical training after release from the hospital.

When first the Salk vaccine and then the Sabin vaccine were developed my mother trooped myself (probably unnecessary), my brother and my sister off to be vaccinated. I can still remember lining up to go into the local high school gym to receive my sugar cube. Polio has been basically eliminated world wide, although there are still cases of it in underdeveloped countries. Small pox similarly has been mostly eliminated world wide, and from personal experience if you live long enough the vaccination site scar becomes difficult to find (this only for the older in the audience). Needless to say both my children have had all the generally prescribed vaccinations including hepatitis B.

Currently there are various quacks and misunderstanding advocates who lobby against vaccination. There is a professed concern about the use of mercury based preservatives (one I have a certain amount of agreement with). There is an advocacy of "natural" cures. There is data that shows that a very small percentage are harmed by vaccination. There is a somewhat stupid belief that since the disease has been mostly eliminated why should one run any risk with one's children. Statistically these are all flawed arguments.

Yes, it would be horrible if one's child were killed by a vaccination (which does unfortunately occur). Yes, the overuse of certain drugs, antibiotics in particular, has led to health problems. I am in total agreement that medical practitioners and their cohorts, the drug companies, should limit their promotion of chemical cures. I am not convinced that annual flu shots are beneficial.

In the case of general vaccination I will disagree severely. I personally know the benefit (by absence thereof) of vaccination. It is in everyone's interest that almost all people are vaccinated against certain diseases. Those who advocate otherwise are doing so to promote not collective but individual agenda. Sometimes this is done because of lack of understanding. Mostly it is done for personal profit.

Quackery of the most venal sort in that it is done not out of real belief but done to profit the individual doing it. It is worse than selling an opiate laced snake oil out of the back of your wagon. Those who have fancy degrees and supposedly understand things who consciously advocate actions known to be dangerous should be condemned.

I accept that many in medicine have been proven correct when they have advocated procedures outside the norm. Those who advocate procedures outside the norm when the preponderance of evidence is against them are doing it only for their own profit.
Edited by JohnH on 11/05/2010 20:10
Couldn't agree with you more.

We seem to have entered a period when people would rather believe what they want to than the truth. People don't like getting vaccinated so they find whatever rationalization that sounds plausible to avoid the process rather than listen to years of hard science.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
Health care in particular is a area where belief can often drive opinion without real fact. Any time you see health outcomes described as a percentage increase or decrease of something be suspect. A 30% increase in something could be as little as a change from 8 per 1000 to 11 per 1000. If it was reported in that fashion it does not sound as dramatic as 30% which is why it is not reported that way except in scientific journals. One can immediately tell that actual attribution of a causal relation to that increase could be very difficult.
You've hit on one of my pet peeves, John. Statistics is a very misused science, depending on how one relates them they can say pretty much anything you want.

The only reason politicians get away with calling people who make 200,000 a year middle class is confusion between mean and median. Many of the drugs on pharmacy shelves are potentially very dangerous but they use small sample sizes and throw out the poorest results as anomalous resulting in very distorted statistical results.

Bottom line is statistics are real easy to manipulate.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
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