In Which I Likely Garner the Hatred of Many Anti-Vaxxers (sigh)

I have a few anti-vax friends.  A few.  It’s one of those “differences of opinion” I try to be tolerant of because it doesn’t really affect either my friendship with these people, or the goodness in their hearts.

That said, the anti-vax stance does annoy the piss out of me.  Especially when proponents of the movement assert that we who do vaccinate our kids are “harming them.”  The beautiful thing about science is you don’t actually have to agree with a given scientific fact or body of data for it to be true.  And the science behind vaccines and how the immune system works to build immunity is sound.

In addition to the host of groups on Facebook that have cropped up “against vaccination,” there is now a group specifically for refuting their claims.  Today, a post that’s probably at least two to four years old is once again circulating Facebook, the main claim being that the Supreme Court has held that vaccines are “unavoidably unsafe.”

This may sound damning at first glance, but used in a legal context, it does not mean what many people think it does.

In legal beagle:

“An unavoidably unsafe product isn’t necessarily by its nature dangerous. Rather, it’s a product that is incapable of being made safe for its intended and ordinary use. Courts generally look at 4 criteria to determine if a product is unavoidably unsafe: how the product was prepared, how it was marketed, the utility of the product compared to its risk, and whether there are any alternatives available. ” (source)

One of the four main criteria for determining whether or not a given substance is “unavoidably unsafe” involve whether or not the benefits outweigh the risks (which has been deemed so in the case of vaccines.)

Another big one, likely where the term “unavoidably” comes from, is the absense of other options to achieve the same ends.

“There must not be any other way to fully achieve the intended purpose of the product. If there’s an alternative product that would be as effective in accomplishing the purpose of the product then the product may not be unavoidably unsafe. In determining if there’s an alternative, courts have considered the risk avoided by the alternative and the cost, benefits, and relative safety of the alternative.” (source)

Now, as I mentioned, the majority of the scientific community have already refuted, based on intensive studies, the idea that vaccines cause autism.  The supreme court has ruled vaccines “unavoidably unsafe,” barring incidences where there were there was actual evidence that the manufacturer of a given vaccine had a “reasonable” expectation of maleffects versus the benefits.  (source)

A commenter on one of the FB page articles mentioned that there is no refuting the science behind vaccines (although many anti-vaxxers do just that), it’s just specific stablizing ingredients for the vaccines that might be called into question. That said, I am still for vaccinating.  When people talk about “vax injured kids,” I can’t help but ask myself a bunch of questions.

Namely, what evidence do they have that it was the vaccine that injured their kid and not something else?   Only their own belief based solely on personal anecdotal “evidence?” (In other words, they “saw” a change in their kid right after a vaccine was administered.)  Was this the same type of potential reaction that any drug cold have for any person, or was this specific to some questionable ingredient in the vaccine? Why do vaccines that millions safely receive allegedly “injure” a relatively small percentage of the population?  And like any other drugs, which carries risk of side effects, why do people choose to ignore the real risk that comes from non-vaccination in favor of the idea, now debunked, (whether they believe it or not is irrelevant in this case because the scientific community has largely debunked this idea) that vaccines could cause injury? Would they rather have a child with polio than autism? If their child got a routine illness, would they also be reticent to give them “unavoidably unsafe” medicine that could help cure them?  Are vaccines only under attack because they prevent horrible diseases instead of curing a disease that the parent can see with their own eyes?

My experience with some of these anti-vaxxers leads me to the opinion that they live in a society that has greatly benefitted from vaccines in terms of how many people no longer get common diseases, but they refuse to credit vaccines with any of that. Their denial is a luxury they have I guess since they don’t live a poor, disease ravaged area.

These people like to cite the increase in autism in recent years. To me it seems that facts indicate more the changing definition of autism and autism spectrum than they do an “increase” in autism.   I have no doubt that in years past, many children and adults were on the spectrum before there was a spectrum, or before the word “autism” became known.

I have argued with many an aggressive anti-vaxxer (those people not content to simply forego vaccination for their own kids, they want everyone to know about it) and when presented with the scientific sources I furnish, they inevitable fall to criticizing the sources, claiming them corrupt and part of some big pharma and government conspiracy to obfuscate the truth.  They don’t trust the CDC.  My question to them is why should I trust their “crunchy mom” statistics and sources more than my own scientific sources? (source)

They believe it is their right to not vaccinate their own children, but believe their children should not be denied access to public resources due to their non-vaccinated status.  They do not “believe” in herd immunity   and have their own “sources” to refute it, sources that usually lead directly back to anti-vax groups and relying on the idea that diseases have cycles which naturally result in the eventual strengthening of the population.   Gee, that sounds nice…unless you are one of the many generations that must suffer catastrophic complications or death while the population “strengthens over time.” (Click here for a study on what happens in a country when the confidence in vaccines breaks down.)  Parents of children too young to be fully vaccinated or whose children have contracted diseases from voluntarily unvaccinated people disagree with your assertion that herd immunity is not a fact. (source)  (source 2)

Again, I ask, what makes the anti-vaxxer sources any more reliable than the myriad of governmental and scientific community sources.

For the purposes of answering the claim that the push for vaccination is more about money and government “conspiracy” than public health and safety, I leave you links to a list of non-government affiliated science related resources on vaccination information.

1) http://www.immunize.org/resources/part_us.asp

2) http://www.immunize.org/resources/intorg.asp

Finally, I’d like to state that as a mother, I feel for the parents of injured children whether or not a vaccine was the cause, and I totally understand the desire to find a reason and make sense your child’s injury or affliction.  I also recognize the fact that many conditions that either do not make themselves apparent or are not diagnosed until early childhood correspond with the timing of many childhood vaccines.  Neither am I negating the idea that some children are sensitive to vaccines.  But being sensitive to a drug is not the same as being “injured” by its alleged inherent dangerousness.

Also, as always, feel free to comment, but owing to the often sensitive nature of the discussion involving the health of our children, our most precious and treasured blessings, I will reiterate my comment policy.  If you are rude or flame either myself or other commenters, your comment will not make it past moderation.  Call it censorship or whatever you want, but I prefer my blog to be a safe haven for discussion.

Some more resources:

UNICEF

US Dept Health and Human Services

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Their loss, Our loss…

Watching the National Geographic “Deadly Dozen” series.  The African elephants used to roam most of Africa freely.  Between poaching and simply being forced off their territory by the advance of people, they are now relegated to a fraction of that space, mostly protected or preserve areas.

I can’t help but shake my head in frustration and disgust.  What we’ve done to this planet!  Trophy hunting and poaching and misinformed “population trimming” aside, the single-mindedness with which we’ve advanced our own species at the cost of every other species of flora and fauna on the planet is just…sad.   Destroying natural resources, destroying habitats, upsetting the ecological balance.  Even on a small scale it’s revolting.  I can’t go to my favorite local park without seeing litter everywhere.  And I think angrily at the faceless perpetrators every time , why do you get to enjoy this park and then trash it so others can’t enjoy it???

Last night on the way to volleyball I saw a large black animal on the side of the road.  I couldn’t look long, as I was driving, and at first I wasn’t sure whether it was a small cow  or just one of the largest dogs I’ve ever seen.  But it hurt my heart a little.  I figured it was probably someone’s pet.  Although I feel bad for most of the small furries I see on the side of the road, it usually hits me even harder if it’s a domestic animal.  But my main feelings behind it are the same.  No animal should ever have to die on the side of the road.  

It’s just not natural.  The road.  Especially the fast moving cars.  The animals certainly don’t regard the perils of our thoroughfare as they would a natural predator.

I’m not trying to be all tree-hugging and bleeding heart.  It’s true that it would be impossible not to disturb or displace some wildlife when building a dwelling or home, even just for ourselves.  It’s just the flagrant attitude of disregard for others, of our own species or any other, and the failure to recognize that eventually, their loss is our loss.

 

Totally Not in the Path of Totality

Stargazing-Events

You may have seen this picture going around Facebook or some other social media site, the one of the “must see” astronomical events of 2013.  It just so happens, gentle readers, that this year my birthday falls on the date of the annular solar eclipse (at least according to this particular chart–  NASA has the date listed as May 10.)

You’ve probably heard of solar eclipses, although maybe you’ve never been lucky enough to see one first-hand.  They are predictable events, but do not occur at exactly regular intervals.  Wikipedia defines an solar eclipse occurring when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, and the Moon fully or partially blocks the Sun.  This can happen only when the Sun and the Moon are in conjunction as seen from Earth in an alignment referred to as syzygy.

In short, eclipses occur when the Moon’s orbit crosses the Earth’s orbital path.

However, the Moon’s orbit is not perfectly circular.  It’s elliptical (think of an oval.)  A total eclipse occurs when the Moon is on the shorter side of it’s orbit, and so it’s apparent size relative to the sun is large enough to completely occult the sun.  Conversely, when the Moon is on the longer side of it’s elliptical orbit, it appears smaller from Earth, and only partially occults the Sun, leaving a bright and visible ring of Sun around the outer edges.  This is an annular eclipse, also known as the “ring of fire” (calm down ladies, this is a different ring of fire.)

Ring of Fire

Ring of Fire

annular_eclipse_diagram.635

It should be noted that the ability to view an eclipse depends on your position on Earth at the time of the eclipse.  The path of totality, the path the Moon’s shadow traces upon the Earth, is not very wide.  The predicted path of totality, that relatively small part of the Earth where one will be able to witness this amazing event, is a 106 to 139 mile -wide track that traverses Australia, eastern Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and the Gilbert Islands.

So… it really doesn’t matter if it happens on my birthday or the day after; I won’t be seeing it from here!

Are You There, God?

When I was fifteen, I told my dad I didn’t want to go to church anymore.  I very calmly explained to him that it wasn’t right for me at that time in my life.  I never wanted to believe just because I was afraid not to, or because I was afraid of death.  (And believe me, I am afraid of death.)  I told him maybe one day– when I was ready– I would come back to the Church.  I tried to explain my well-thought-out reasoning to him maturely…

And then I told him if he tried to make me go, I’d stop coming to his house for visits on weekends.

Needless to say, I didn’t have to go to church anymore.  Maybe he understood…maybe I broke his heart a little.  But since that time I have been searching, in my own way, for the answers.

For some people it’s simple.  Some people were  raised with a faith that they never felt the need or desire to question.

Some people are so immersed in their faith that they literally can not conceive of someone doubting God’s existence; they use rote faith as proof… ie. “How can you look around at this beautiful world and not see God everywhere?”  Sort of  solipsistic, isn’t it?

And then there are those who insist that faith is about believing in the absence of evidence.  In other words, if you want to believe, you just believe.

I am none of these people. I have issues with organized religion.  I’d love to believe there is a God, but I’m not sure I 100% like the Catholic God I was raised with.  Or rather, the representation of him.  Many, many Christians interpret sections of the bible in ways which suit them, latching on to certain ideas, rejecting or ignoring others.  And then there is the question of how literal the bible is to be taken, and then how to interpret the contradicting ideas–

-Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live… but…

-Thou shalt not kill.

Only God is allowed to judge, yet we make judgments on our fellow man all the time, often based on our interpretation of “God’s word.”

Then there is the question of whose God is the “right” God.

Also, I have a very analytic mind.  My majors in school were Psychology and Sociology, so I tend to approach the idea of religion and faith in the context of those disciplines.

But all of that’s academic.  In other words, it’s not the real point of this post.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I went through a period of many losses.  Jobs, family members, a miscarriage, our home…  At four and a half months pregnant, hubby and I uprooted and moved 800 miles on three hours’ notice.  We were going through a very financially and emotionally stressing time, my husband’s unemployment at one point being held for three months (three months with NO income and a baby on the way,) and my mother and I were in the worst fight of our lives.  I actually worried the stress would harm my unborn baby.

My best friend, who is pretty much “born again,” only not in the annoying, bible-thumping way, urged me to come to church with her, and to put my trust in God and ask for his help.  So I tried.  I really did.  I prayed, although my praying was stunted because I constantly over-thought everything even AS I prayed.  I would tell God about my day, and then say, “But I guess you already knew all that…”  and then chide myself for presuming to guess what God may or may not know.  (Weird, I know, but I’m Obsessive-Compulsive, so what do you expect?) I found it hard to concentrate, and my mind would wander so I actually started keeping a prayer journal.  I also did go to church with my best friend.  My husband went once or twice, more to support me than out of any feelings of faith.

And the funny thing is…I actually did start to feel a measure of peace.

Fast-forward to after my daughter’s birth.  Like most new mothers probably, I was overwhelmed with emotions, chiefly deep love and deep, deep fear.  Becoming a mom changed me in many ways, some expected, some not…  One key difference is that I became infinitely more sensitive to media reports of violence against children.  Especially violence perpetrated by people the children are supposed to be able trust.  Like their parents.  The number of family annihilators, mothers murdering their infants, and children abused in horrific ways is staggering.  And it was weighing very heavily on my soul.

The point is, at that important juncture of my life, when I should have been the most thankful to God, when I should have looked to God the most for guidance and peace, I could not– can not– reconcile myself with the idea that a “loving god” would allow such horrors to happen to innocent children.  All the “God’s plan, mysterious ways, devil’s influence, sins of humans” platitudes in the world are not enough to make me alright with this.

It has been told to me more than once by people of faith that people in general tend to blame God when something bad happens, but often don’t give Him credit when things go their way.  My question is this; conversely, then, why is it okay to give Him credit for the good, but not look to Him for a damn good reason for the bad (especially something as bad a the murder of a child?)

I know it may sound like I am preaching here, but really I am just trying to sort out my thoughts, and please forgive me if this blog entry is very stream-of-consciousness or seems to ramble.

These are the things I think about when I lay awake in bed at night.

I would love to believe we are not alone in the universe, and when I try to pray at night I can almost feel like I might be talking to someone…  But when I step away from that isolated moment, I feel the sterile and empirical “alone-ness” of the human condition– that all life on this planet is the result of a coincidental series of optimal conditions.  That when we die, we cease to exist.  That there is no judgment for the wicked people who would harm their own babies, aside from that which we mete out here on earth (our “justice” could never be enough for these people, and some escape the law entirely.) That no amount of praying can protect my child.

eye of God

I keep telling myself– hoping to myself– that by the time my death approaches, hopefully after a long life filled with love, that I will have found the answers.  That I won’t be afraid anymore.  Now, as any good mother would, I care more for my child’s health, life, and happiness than my own anyway.  So I will continue to seek the answers, however passively, and hope that one day I will be at peace with whatever those answers are.

Maybe there is a God, but He is unlike anything written in the Quran, the Bible, or ancient mythologies.  Maybe he is an observer.  Maybe He is Love, or maybe He is completely ambivalent.  Maybe He is infinitely more complex and inscrutable than we could ever conceive with our piddly human minds.

The only thing I can know for sure is that I have to do the best I can with this life, and the best way I know to combat the fear I feel is to fight it with love.  I’ll make sure those dearest to me know how much I love them.

*This is an intensely personal entry for me.  In some way I can’t define, I am uncomfortable with it, and even now hesitate to click the “publish” button.  Maybe for that reason more than any other, I have to post this entry.