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Feb 08 2013

Part 1 – An Explanation for Vaccination

This is something I have worked on for a while.

As you guys may remember I wrote a piece on an “Easy Explanation of Immunology” a while back. And I noticed one of the comments.

I apparently didn’t set it all the way to easy and there were some bits that needed further explanation so I started working on a series of pieces that explain vaccination properly.

So if you are new to the debate go have a read of the above article. It may not be as easy as I thought it was but the next series of posts will expand on it and try to hammer out some of the basics so that you can better understand the topic.

Let’s start with something sensible.

Why Do We Vaccinate.

Let’s start at the beginning. We vaccinate because prevention is better than a cure and therefore preventing the disease by boosting the specific immune system towards that disease will help save a lot of misery. In simple parlance “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine”.

There are two benefits to vaccinating

  • Immediate – It provides personal immunity. The person immunised is protected (for the most part… vaccines are not 100% effective but 95% is better than 0%) from disease. Initially these include diseases that are responsible for infant mortality including pneumococcus, rotavirus, HiB and Measles (Pneumonia, Diarrhoea, Measles and Meningitis are among the biggest killers of children world wide. Pneumonia, Diarrhoea and Measles kill more than a million children each worldwide). As you grow older more vaccines can be given to top up immunity as boosters or to protect against new diseases that you may be exposed to including during travel. In addition some vaccines such as the BCG may not protect you against a disease but protect you against the intensifying of the disease (The BCG stops the spread of Tuberculosis from the lungs which is pretty dangerous. More so than tuberculosis of the lungs which we normally associate with TB).
  • Society – This is immunity of the community or the “herd”. If enough people within a population are vaccinated, then you have broken the effective transmission of a disease by cutting out the victims. Let’s think of a population as a chess board. Now let’s say that diseases can only spread via adjacent squares. [BTW since I have no proper laptop I cannot do any fancy shmancy artwork to go with this so you guys need to use your imagination] So if no one in a population is vaccinated AND the disease we are using has a 100% transmission rate then eventually every single square on the board is infected. Now let’s vaccinate a new board with a vaccine that has a 100% effectiveness (In reality they are around 80 to 95% effective which is still pretty high and there are further knock on effects from the herd immunity in decreasing effectiveness). Now the disease cannot spread. Even if a bunch of squares are not vaccinated (Say the white squares) the disease still cannot spread because the black squares act as a barrier of transmission. However in reality since people move about you would need a higher incidence of vaccination rate than 50%. A vaccination rate of 90% effectively cuts out transmission of disease and a rate of around 95% is generally what we can achieve. Now let’s go back to those who aren’t vaccinated. The people who aren’t vaccinated are usually doing so because of a belief that vaccines are not effective or are dangerous. However there is a small group of people who cannot physically get vaccinated as the vaccines either trigger allergies or severe immunological reactions. There are some people whose immune systems are incompetent so vaccines wouldn’t work on them. These people are protected by the herd immunity by preventing the germ from getting to them by disrupting the chain of transmission. We actually went through this stage before and it is in this stage that the anti-vax live because for a long time they were rather a small minority and so were protected by the effect.

With the mainstream arrival of anti-vax as a entity this number has often fallen to levels where diseases have increased often with human costs. The best example of this can be seen in the recolonisation of pertussis in Australia and the resurgence of Polio in Africa courtesy of anti-vax propoganda.

The simplest demonstration of this principle can be seen in the UK. In 1998 the UK had just 56 cases of Measles. A disease once considered the scourge of childhood and the killer of millions (Measles once had a yearly mortality rate of 8 million people… Smallpox and Malaria are the only diseases that killed more). Why 1998?

Well in 1998 a little known doctor called Andrew Wakefield published a paper. Let’s not go into details her but suffice to say the paper was incorrect. However it sparked a fear of the MMR vaccine. It’s the year “Anti-Vax” made it big. Various newspapers reported the link between Autism and MMR as verbatim rather than indicated.  Wakefield also dragged his feet with regards to publishing his data. All the while he received a pretty cool £500,000 which works out to $1,000,000 for being an expert witness in an American lawsuit. This was “british taxpayer money” he had taken for his “original and ground breaking research”. And he was maliciously incorrect. His entire plan was to discredit the MMR and then flog his own replacement vaccine and take a massive cut from a court case. His research was exposed as categorically fraudulent but it took time and the damage was done.

In 2012 there were an estimated 2000 cases of Measles. There were 957 cases by the halfway mark and extrapolating that over the year you would get around 2000 cases. There are some states in India which post lower incidences to Measles than the UK and the UK is a first world nation. Measles is now endemic to the UK and eliminating it will take years. And this has come at the cost of lives and health. Andrew Wakefield’s so called research has killed and it will kill again.

The proof is as clear as day, the need to vaccinate is vital to prevent these diseases from recurring.

Part 2 should be up tomorrow!

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