I used to believe that I was a moderate. I am a Libra, after all. Fairness, balance, justness.
I was mistaken about myself. I have strong opinions about the things that I am passionate about. I discovered it during an argument with a person who had qualms about immunization. As a physician – a pediatrician, I feel very strongly about community health. I grew up reading books about physician scientists that worked hard to eliminate polio and small pox. I remember being amazed at how many governments worldwide worked together to eradicate these diseases. How India eradicated Polio in January 2014 – how I was proud to be a part of that milestone.
So when a new friend talked about immunizations weakening the system, I thought it my duty to gently (maybe not too gently) remind him how amazing it is to be living in this era of modern medicine. How I had seen a distant family member with polio, and treated numerous infants in life-threatening respiratory distress or encephalitis because of viral infections, how it escapes me why measles is returning to the developed world- and how I feel that I would take that crummy feeling I get after getting the flu shot any single day compared to not taking it and risk giving it to a baby or an old person or a person who is immunocompromised.
We as a people have social responsibilities. To protect the weaker members in our society is one of them. And it can be as simple as giving up your seat on the bus, driving safely, practicing gun safety and taking that darn flu shot if it means we can collectively decrease the chances of passing it on to them. Herd immunity we call it. (Frankly, I imagine it to be one of those moments of solidarity that give you goosebumps in the climax of the movie – you know, the moment when people stand united against evil for a common good).
In the field of medicine – we work on the principle of benefit versus risk. All daily human activities – as mundane as the act of drinking water or stepping out into the sunshine and breathing air have the potential to go awry and be harmful. You could choke on that water you are drinking if you gulp too fast, you know. So, when someone argues that they are worried about the side effects of immunization – I say that I worry too. I worry about things like feeling crummy for 2-3 days, that sore feeling in the arm, that little bruise you got when they jab you too hard. I, do not, however, worry about the risk of autism or compromising your immunity because I know it to be untrue.
Scientists in labs across the world are working hard at making sure that these little jabs are as safe as they can be. And, for all their foibles, these shots whether they be for flu, measles, chicken pox or cancer – have a very long history for saving lives. Innocuous little jabs of pain – working to stimulate your bone marrow and lymphatic system to be prepared – to fight the virus when it hits you when you breathe that air – and for it to be eliminated enough- that when you pass by that old woman on the street or that cute baby in the supermarket – you don’t give it to them. Why? Because your body was prepared to fight it when it hit you – you eliminated it – because you took the shot. Boom, boom, boom.
Here is my reference – in case you want to read some more.
(This may not be as fancy and strongly worded like the anti-vaxxer blogs, but I trust humans to tell the difference between the glittery stuff and gold)
I realized I am not a moderate at all about certain things. Vaccinations are one of those things.
P.S. The conversation with this friend started with a story about how as a child my parents had taught me that these shots would protect me from the bad bugs that cause disease. I would look forward to visits when I would get them. I was about 10-11 yrs old when the chickenpox vaccine was released in India. We saw the ad in Reader’s digest and since I had not had an episode yet (much unlike most other children I knew) – my parents made the informed decision to immunize me. I was happy then.
10 years later – both my roommates in medical school developed chicken pox – I was sure I was going to get it. I almost took the acyclovir prophylactically – but decided to wait for the first vesicle to form. It never came. A year or two later – while preparing to do my clinical rotations in US, I checked my varicella immunity titres – they were where they should have been, I was protected. That jab as a pre-teen shielded me from a very painful and difficult illness in adulthood. I thanked God, my parents and the countless men and women in my profession who strived to protect mankind from illness.
So much for considering myself a softie.