Pox parties

I go to medical school in New England, but I spent much of my formative years in Florida and consider it to be my home. In my town, there is currently a chickenpox outbreak among kids in an “Eastern religious sect” (I didn’t even know there was one nearby). It got me reading about pox parties, which in turn, reminded me of M.T. Anderson’s brilliant book, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing.

The arguments for vaccination of EVERYONE who is able to get one are undeniable. I personally don’t like getting the flu shot, because it changes every year, but as someone who spends a fair amount of time in the hospital, it’s the responsible thing to do. Here is a very well-written overview of the proven utility of vaccines, the history of vaccination, and the danger of the anti-vaccination movement from Science-Based Medicine.

So then, we turn a critical eye on reasons why people choose not to get vaccinated or vaccinate their children. Here’s a a view from the Healthy Home Economist, which makes my blood pressure rise because it is so blatantly incorrect, with no understanding of the immunology that goes into vaccines, and more than a dash of the really harmful Tea Party mentality that we see being legitimized nowadays. This is a study that examines young women’s reasons to not get the HPV vaccine, which is concerning because it’s been shown that almost ALL CERVICAL CANCER IS CAUSED BY THIS VIRUS. An interesting report from Steven Salzberg about doctors who fire parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. Here’s a satirical view, just for kicks.

From my own perspective: when I was in the NICU on rounds, we encountered a “granola mom” who didn’t want to give her baby–in the neonatal intensive care unit!!–the standard time of birth vaccines. The nurses were visibly upset, one of them rolled her eyes, and there was a sense of exasperation. “That poor baby,” one of them muttered. It sounds harsh, but you can’t blame people who are scientifically trained and with a mind towards public health for looking down on parents who don’t vaccinate their children. If you choose not to vaccinate, and rely on herd immunity, you are taking the risk that your child may pass a virus on to an immunocompromised person, another unvaccinated child, or may develop complications later in life (the chickenpox-shingles relationship). But as much as this harmful mentality may upset healthcare providers, it is our responsibility to educate patients, and respect them as autonomous beings, for better or for worse.

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