But Ms. Check settled on an unconventional diagnosis: Her child, she decided, had been “defiled” by the standard state-mandated vaccines against mumps, measles, polio, diphtheria and rubella.
According to a local newspaper account, Ms. Check believes that “the practicing Roman Catholic believes the body is a temple, and contends injecting vaccines into it ‘would defile God’s creation of the immune system [and] demonstrate a lack of faith in God, which would anger God and therefore be sacrilegious.’ ” Last year, she sued the city’s education department, which had barred her child from attending public school until she received her vaccinations.
The example of Ms. Check is worth studying, because her case exemplifies the way that many people come to embrace junk-science-inspired fears about life-saving vaccines: They imagine a link between the vaccination process and some childhood malady, and then let their emotions, rather than peer-reviewed medical science, guide their response.
Ms. Check’s claims to have had a medical revelation around this time in her life. “Disease is pestilence,” she claims, “and pestilence is from the devil. The devil is germs and disease, which is cancer and any of those things that can take you down. But if you trust in the Lord, these things cannot come near you.”
Not all anti-vaccine activists derive their phobias from religion. In some cases, they are swept up by Internet-peddled “alternative medicine” cults, which promote the idea that all-natural diets and holistic medicine can cure any ailment. Or they are conspiracy theorists who believe the medical profession is seeking to harm (or even exterminate) ordinary citizens. On the right side of the political spectrum, anti-vaccine activists tend to believe that any state-mandated program must have some sinister motive.
In other cases, they are simply gullible people who get their health information from Jenny McCarthy and other ignorant celebrities. Or they are followers of disgraced medical frauds, such as Andrew Wakefield, who convinced millions of parents that there was a link between vaccines and autism. (There isn’t.) In all cases, these people torture the available data to suggest that vaccines are harmful — or even that the underlying deadly ailments these vaccines prevent are somehow harmless (or, more ludicrously, beneficial).
With their propaganda and impressive-seeming array of selectively-picked data points, these anti-vaccine activists can convince some parents to endanger the lives of their children by failing to vaccinate them.
Every Canadian pediatrician has stories about their dealings with parents such as this. It is absolutely heartbreaking that some children will pay with their lives because brainwashed parents are willingly turning their back on the most important public-health measure in recent human history.
To this day, the WHO estimates, more than 2-million deaths are prevented through immunization measures. And even those who are not vaccinated benefit from vaccinations, thanks to the abundantly well-established scientific principle ofherd immunity.
In this country, the group Immunize Canada reports, “immunization has saved more lives than any other health intervention, and has contributed to the reduction in morbidity and mortality in adults, children and other vulnerable populations.”
As for Ms. Check, she and her fellow New York State vaccine opponents have just been dealt a major blow in a federal court: Last week, a judge upheld a New York City policy that prevents unimmunized students from attending a school when a fellow student is exhibiting symptoms of a vaccine-preventable disease.
Ms. Check had sought a religious exemption from the law. But the judge correctly declared that a parent’s ecstatic religious visions should not provide the basis for broad exceptions to life-and-death public-health measures. Conspiracy theorists, eccentric medical skeptics, and religious extremists may believe whatever they choose.
But when it comes to policy-making, the state must rely on mainstream, peer-reviewed medical science.
For those Canadian readers who still entertain doubts about the safety of vaccines — including the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine that is most commonly targeted by fringe skeptics — I would urge them to consult the information at www.immunize.ca. Or simply consult your pediatrician. It’s a conversation that could save someone’s life.
written by jkay national post
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