The Vaccination Debate

The immunization program is, arguably, the most successful medical advance in the world, and as such, it is a supportable technique. Not only because it can statistically prove to be effective, but since the early 1800s the vaccination program has grown to be a public health intervention with one of the greatest impacts on global health.

I understand the desire to protect ourselves from diseases that once took countless lives. I understand the benefit/risk ratio. I understand the community responsibility. I understand the absolute belief in the virtue of vaccinations.

However, vaccinations are not 100% guaranteed or infallible.

And, it is only faith that doesn’t question.

There are repercussions, there are adverse effects, and sometimes there is no easy-to-trace, convenient, linear cause and effect. It isn't always a question of the big picture or right or wrong, of throwing out, or shunning a whole idea. It should not be about sides or competing arguments. It is a challenge to balance competing ethical claims, where sometimes it is easier to understand the position of the other side.

There is no easy answer to the question, however much we want to imagine a simple formula to be enough to storm the gates of heaven. However much it would be nice to have a simple set of beliefs or activities we can rely on and concentrate on, the only result of this is conditioning.

To dare to question any convictions sharpens our focus and breaks the cycle of conditioning. It sorts out what is relevant to now, today, and what is inherited, half learned and just plain accepted without question. It gives us the opportunity to come out of any trance we may be caught in.

It is important to note the vaccination program is based on the idea that prevention is better than cure. Vaccination was the inception of preventative medicine, the technique the medical world developed at a time when improvements in other areas of housing, sanitation, clean water and nutrition made huge leaps in mortality rates. It epitomises, still, today the ideals of preventative healthcare for all.

Vaccination can also teach us the ultimate definition of prevention.

We give a vaccination to teach the immune system, not to prevent disease

This is a very important distinction.

Vaccinations and medications don’t really protect people; it is our immune systems that protect us and keep us safe. A stair-gate, though a pretty good thing to prevent children from accidentally falling down, is no substitute for learning to climb steps.

It is our immune system that is the ultimate prevention measure.

Louis Pasteur regarded Claude Bernard as "Physiology Itself", even though Bernard had contradicted Pasteur’s claim that germs cause disease. Even after Robert Koch designed an experimental procedure - now called Koch's Postulates - Bernard still could not help pointing out the flaw in the idea of ‘the germ theory of disease’.

To prove that germs were not the cause of disease but would - and could only – thrive if an ideal environment for them already existed, Bernard pulled a great stunt in a room full of physicians and scientists. Taking a large glass of water infected with cholera he turned to his colleagues and declared: “The germ is nothing and the terrain is everything,” before draining the glass like an alcoholic falling off the wagon.

He never contracted the disease.

There is a famous German pathologist, Rudolph Virchow (1821 -1902), who said: “Germs seek their natural habitat – diseased tissue - rather than being the cause of the diseased tissue,” and compared it to mosquitoes that seek stagnant water, but do not cause the water to become stagnant.

Our bodies are the terrain; if the blood, body fluids, tissues, cellular functions, etc., are in balance, a ‘terrain’ is created that does not support the life of a disease.

If we continue to defend the technique above the principles of health, we run the risk of encouraging extreme debates that do not further either side of the debate.

Immunisations have become a multinational product that no longer expresses any cultural or geographical differences, and offers something you can put your trust in.

However, if our desire is to protect the weak and the vulnerable, do we not owe protection to all?

The medical profession profoundly believes in what it does; there is no conspiracy. The vast majority of people fall within the statistically safe boundaries; the trick is to determine which children don’t. Then we can protect all children with the best option and – again – for the vast majority this is through immunisation.

However, will we really ask some of our children, no matter how small a percentage it is, to take a risk of being damaged in a way that we are trying to avoid by having the vaccine?

A risk that is exactly the same as the risk we ourselves are not prepared to take with the disease.

As we protect the majority, we owe it to the individuals too. We owe protection to all the most vulnerable in their way.

If the numbers are so small, then what is every one so afraid of? Acknowledging the risk, providing clear and objective information, and identification of and not vaccinating those at risk will, by the statistics quoted, have very little affect on the overall programme’s effectiveness.

What would you do in my position?

I wonder sometimes if we are acting honourably, ethically and logically, or from a

deep level of fear?

If we apply the principle of “prevention is better than cure”, and prevent those whom the vaccine will damage from having it, just as we protect the vast majority from diseases with a vaccine, then we can continue to enjoy the benefits for many years to come.

Don’t we ALL deserve it?

Are we acting honorably, logically and ethically, or from deep seated fear?