Monday, February 09, 2015

Burning the Witches, 2015

So there was a measles outbreak at Disneyland.

I should start this post by saying, in the vain hope of heading off some small amount of the hate it will provoke, that my family were vaccinated on the standard schedule.  We're conformists that way.

Jail 'anti-vax' parents: Column

Put simply, no person has the right to threaten the safety of his community. Like drunken drivers, the unvaccinated pose an imminent danger to others. They pose a lethal threat to the most vulnerable: the immunocompromised, such as HIV or cancer patients, and infants who have yet to receive their vaccines.  Anti-vaccine parents are turning their children into little walking time bombs. They ought to be charged for endangering their children and others.

This strikes me as not quite right.  People with measles endanger the safety of others, be they infants, immunocompromised, or simply unlucky.  Had Alex Berezow asserted a moral obligation on the part of the sick, or even the exposed, to quarantine themselves, he would have been on much firmer ground.  But an unvaccinated child doesn't turn into a "walking time bomb" simply by turning a-year-and-a-day without a vaccine.  Indeed, he doesn't turn into a "time bomb" at all; the metaphor fails because the disease doesn't spontaneously generate.  If you get it, you got it from somebody who also has it.

People who elect to forgo vaccinations may be misguided, and indeed, the California outbreak ought to provoke anti-vaxxers to recalculate their priors (though perhaps not).  But I don't believe they are any more evil than the year-less-a-day infants because I don't see them as any more vulnerable than those infants, any more likely to spread the disease than those infants.  The exact same public health argument in favor of keeping the year-and-a-day child isolated from the rest of us applies to the year-less-a-day child.  In fact, if everyone were vaccinated on the standard schedule, infants and immunocompromisees would still be at risk from each other.

It's odd, though, that for all the talk of jailing non-conformists, I suspect (admittedly without citation) that most of these outbreaks originate outside the U.S., especially in poor countries with much lower rates of vaccination and much higher probability of having their citizens here illegally.  Yet nobody in the media wants to talk about the threat of our derelict border control and illegal immigrant policing poses to everyone, conformists and non-conformists alike.

Funny how that works.


sykes.1 said...

I had measles as a boy in the 50's, and I was quaratined at home, as was the practice of the day.

All my children were vaccinated with whatever was available. I got the Salk series when it became available.

heresolong said...

That WND piece on the measles vaccine killing people is a perfect example of using statistics to mislead. 108 people died in the last twelve years due to the vaccinations and no one died of the measles. Exactly!

That's because the measles vaccine has wiped out the threat of dying from measles. They conveniently ignore the fact that prior to the vaccine hundreds of people died every year from measles. Not every twelve years but every year. The number was slowly decreasing, probably due to better quarantine procedures, but it did not consistently go to zero until after the vaccine was introduced.

Meanwhile your average person who doesn't pay much attention reads the headline and concludes that the measles vaccine is more dangerous than actual measles.

Result? Measles outbreaks.

Dr. Φ said...

Heresolong: I will stipulate that the invention and use of the measles vaccine drove down the rate of incidence and consequently the rate of death from 1963 on. But an individual calculating their personal risk today is not unjustified in deciding that the one-in-one-million chance of death from the vaccine is higher than the one-in-one-hundred-million chance of death from measles.

heresolong said...

The problem is still in the impression given by the headline, that the measles vaccine is somehow more deadly than measles, which is just not the case. The chance of death from measles is not 1/100,000,000, it is (according to the statistics from before the vaccine) about 6000/100,000,000 (if you get measles). That is orders of magnitude higher than the chance of death from vaccine. The likelihood of you getting measles is pretty slim but that is because everyone else is taking the risk to benefit you.

I'm not suggesting that there should be mandatory vaccinations but I do think that the public schools and hospitals should be allowed to require vaccination before you are allowed to attend or work there, otherwise you are putting others at risk.